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Sunday, 19 December 2010

Blogging Through Advent - 4th Sunday


Readings Advent 4 (Year A)


Isaiah 7:10-16
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
Romans 1:1-7
Matthew 1:18-25

The readings for this Sunday in Advent, particularly the passages from Isaiah and Matthew need to be read in the wider context. The full force of the connections aren't fully obvious. Terms like Emmanuel, God with Us, are hard to read through the lenses that we have inherited from the experence of Christendom in which monarchy came to be equated with arbitrary power. what we need to anticipate and open ourselves to is that in this week in Advent our expectations will be turned upside down.

Walter Brueggeman, the Old Testament traces this turning of our expectations upside down in his compact reflection on the readings for this Sunday.



The two central texts, the gospel narrative of Matthew and the Isaiah text to which Matthew alludes, speak about the biology of this evangelical event. The biology does not leave much to argue about. Let us say simply and at the outset, "Yes, born of a virgin." And we say that in the innocence of Christmas without quibbling over translation problems of which something likely could be made. We simply follow the creedal way of the church and leave these niceties undisturbed.

But the biological event does not stand as a bald medical claim. In the context of Isaiah 7:10-15, the birth of the unnamed child points us to two other considerations.
First, the child is given to King Ahaz as a notice that the present world should not be feared, trusted, or credited. The virgin birth is a sign that the known world, the one we treasure, is not permanent. It is in jeopardy, under assault by the power of God, and it will soon be terminated.

The scholarly inclination is that the years before the "knowing good and evil" are to be reckoned at two years. That is how long it takes a child to learn. So this odd birth is a time bomb. In two years, O king, the landscape of the human world will have completely changed. It is not to be treasured or relied upon.

The season of Advent invites us to imagine what in the landscape of this world will change in two years because God is God. What threats will dissipate? What evil will be overcome? What chances for obedience will be take—or missed? And if we take Isaiah 7:17 seriously, under what threats will we be in two years?

The whole passage reminds us that the present world is not locked into a safe or predictable mode. It is open and on the move, precisely because Yahweh is Lord. We must not be so fascinated with the biological as to miss the news that is here, good and bad.
Second, the name of the child, like so many names, is an anticipation: Immanuel—God with us! That is the evangelical claim of the biological event. Immanuel could be royal propaganda, a throne name. Or it could mean the most important new reality ever made available in creation.

The God who has been far off draws close. The one who is enemy and judge becomes comrade and friend. The calculus of heaven and earth is changed, and earth becomes the place of God's governing presence. This is cause for celebration.

In the epistle lesson, Paul begins with reference to the same gospel (Romans 1:1). It is far from clear that Paul knows anything about virgin birth. If he does, he makes nothing of it. But he does know about and makes a great deal of the odd reality of Jesus. He uses a barrage of titular terms to try to express it. What all the listing of names and the celebration of Jesus yields for Paul is a call to be set apart for the gospel, a call to obedience and apostleship (verses 1,5).

Advent and the birth are not events that happen and just sit there. They are events with futures. They open new lives and establish fresh vocations. They call baptized folks to live lives as odd, abrasive, and unacceptable to reason as any biological miracles. A World on the Move
Yes, the world is not safe or predictable, as we have had reason to be reminded this week with the shipwreck and drowning of refugees within sight of, note the irony of the title of the geographic feature, Christmas Island.

The passage from Isaiah comes at a time of empires clashing, people being uprooted and dispersed. The promise recorded in the encounter between Isaiah and the king is a ticking time bomb for those in power trying to play it safe. An openness to the future of God's salvation is paradoxically risky and uncertain, played out in the reality of women giving birth and empires on the march.

I find no easy comfort here in these readings. It does not offer salvation as something spiritual disconnected from the world of politics and the wonder of the birth of a child. It offers to us a way in which salvation has to be lived, not an intellectually constructed creed to be believed.
 

Saturday, 18 December 2010

The sacredness of the secular, Incarnation Gace and the Wrold according to William Stringfellow


In one of his early works, A Private and Public Faith, theological polemics at their best, William Stringfellow charts in compact yet elliptical prose the relationship between Christian witness and the  presence of the grace of God in the secularity of the world.

The cohesion and commonality of the vocation of Christians originates in their power to discern the truth of the word of God in any event whatever, and precisely because the Word of God is present in all events that power may be exercised in any event... No man - for that matter, no creature, no idea, no institution, no nation, no issue, no action - is beyond the reach and intercession of some member of the Body of Christ. It is in this way, indeed, that is by the width and the depth of the implication of Christians in the life of the world, that the unequivocal fact of grace is communicated, that the universality of Christ is represented and that the ubiquity of the Word of God is exposed.
For lay folk in the Church  this means that there is no forbidden work. There is no corner of human existence, however degraded or neglected into which they may not venture; no person however beleaguered or possessed whom they may not befriend or represent; no cause, however vain, or stupid in which they may not witness; no risk, however costly or imprudent which they may not undertake.
This intimacy with the world as it is, this peculiar freedom, this awful innocence towards the world which a Christian is given is what makes Christian look like a sucker. He looks like that to other men because he is engaged in the wholesale expenditure of his life. 

A Christian is not distinguished by his political views or moral decision, or habitual conduct or personal piety, or least of all by his churchly activities, A Christian is distinguished by his radical esteem for the Incarnation ... by his reverence for the life of God in the whole of creation, even and in a sense especially in the travail of sin. 
The characteristic place to find a Christian is among his enemies. The first place to look for Christ is in Hell. (pp.42-43 A Private and a Public Faith)

For links with access to resources by and about Stringfellow see: Stringfellow - Ethics and Theology and the archives of Ben Myers Blog Faith and Theology March 2009.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Terrorism and the Terror of God

One of my tests of a book is whether I want to go back and re-read it. Lee Griffith's The War on Terrorism and the Terror of God passes that test. I am not sure why but I think it has something to do with the way he undertakes the theological task.

Griffiths sets out his theological agenda and method in the Preface. 
... consideration of the terror that people inflict on one another necessarily entails a consideration of faith. Karl Barth once called on believers to read Bible and newspaper side by side. An understanding of current events sheds new light on the hermeneutical context from which the reader approaches the biblical text., but more importantly the juxtaposition of newspaper and Bible makes more readily apparent the manner in which the biblical word demythologises our contemporary ideologies and social and political circumstances. A reading of Barth's Church Dogmatics reveals that Barth added a dialogue with church history into the mix of newspaper and Bible. The encounter with the biblical word is less individual than communal. It is within the community - both the living communion of saints as well as the host of witnesses that have gone before us - that we come to understand our own idiosyncratic readings of Scripture and faith ... (p.xiii)
This method makes for a richness of discussion that continually pulls against any simple ideological positioning and rush to judgment of the obvious "badies" or uncritical accounts of those who we might have expected to see as obvious candidates for uncritical approval. Griffith's discussion of the abolitionist movement is a particularly good example of the discriminating complexity of his assessment of the differing strands of that movement.


Particularly challenging and likely to be counter-intuitive to many both Christians and atheists alike is his reading of the book of Revelation. He opens his discussion with the observation that there is general agreement that the author of the book of Revelation was a criminal and goes from there. If John was not well loved by the Roman empire he observes the book of Revelation indicates that the feeling was mutual.

Griffith makes the important point that while there is much violence in Revelation we need to be clear as to the perpetrator of the violence, Babylon, the Beast and the dragon. God's weapons are the truth of God's word and the blood of the slain lamb. The other theme he highlights is that it is not a book about the end of the world it is about re-creation and a new heaven and new earth. The terror of God he notes is the resurrection. ... the resurrection is terror to all who assume that death and bloodshed will have the final word.(Publisher's Interview)

The author does not remain detached in a theoretical vein. The theology becomes personal and passionate at this particular point when he draws to our attention the two best sermons that he has ever heard preached on the book of Revelation. The first was an address by the lawyer/theologian/activist William Stringfellow on the defeat of the saints.
His meditation on the defeat of the saints was a renunciation of all triumphalism, be it academic, ecclesiastical, economic, political or military,  It was a reminder that the saints are not raptured out of terror and into victory. It was a reminder that Easter is preceded by the cross, that God's cause is not served by the righteous who are triumphant but by the faithful who re defeated.(p.216)
 The second sermon took the form of the recitation of a text by a wino in a ramshackle soup kitchen in Washington DC. The story is worth reading in its entirety but I cannot forebear to quote from the account. Late at night in the kitchen open to provide warmth for the homeless following the death by hypothermia and the funeral of North Carolina one of the regular visitors to the kitchen.

Scott Wright one of the members of the Community for Creative Non-Violence who ran the kitchen asked if people wanted to recite some poems or have some readings. An old wino, Cool Breeze, asked for a reading from the Bible, "The Revelation to Saint John, chapter twenty-one, verses one through seven".

Scott read, and right from the very first word, Cool Breeze recited alon: "Then I was a new heaven and a new earth ... " Coo, Breeze - his words were slurred but there was no mistaking it. It was Revelation 21, the word of God spoken in a way I had never quite heard before or since. " ... and God himself will we with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more ... See, I am making all things new."


Well, for reasons I do not understand, that was one of several conversion experiences in my life. What was it? Was it the words of promise spoken in a ramshackle setting? Was it the conjoining of voices? The voice of Scott a man of gentle faith and nonviolence, with the rough and slurred voice of Cool Breeze, also a man of faith  who had been brought low by the great society as surely asby his bottle? Or was it simply fatigue that left me open to hearing the versus of Scripture in my guts as well as my ears? I do not know.


But this I do know. As day broke and Scott and I left the kitchen I knew it to be absolutely true - there will be a new heaven and a new earth. And we are going to be there. O we may be transformed. We may not have our finery and fancy attitudes, but we're going to be there. ... And that no-good old wino Cool Breeze he's gong to be there too. Maranatha. Come Lord Jesus. (pp217-8)





 

Blogging Through Advent - 3rd Sunday

Third Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 35:1-10; Psalm 146: 5-10 or Luke 1:47-55; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

Debra Dean Murphy in her reflections on this weeks readings for Advent draws our attention sharply  to the outdoor character of what we are waiting for in Advent. Here is no vague Aldi brand spirituality that we can briefly tune into as a form of therapy before resuming business as normal in the frantic rush to consume.
Wendell Berry observes that it’s not enough appreciated how much an outdoor book the Bible is. For many, such an insight serves mainly to underwrite the idea that we can worship God best in nature’s environs: mountaintops, seashores, golf courses. But I think that Berry is on to something else, as are the appointed texts for the season of Advent generally and for the third Sunday especially.

The Advent scriptures are relentlessly eschatological: preoccupied with consummation and completion, concerned with all things, at long last, being set to right.
...

Even more of a challenge, perhaps, is the particular vision of Advent’s eschaton: transformed landscapes (blooming deserts, water in the wilderness); the glory and majesty of forests and mountains (Lebanon, Carmel, Sharon). Eschatology here is topographical, earthy, local. It is, at heart, about the renewal of creation. Christ’s second Advent portends not the sweeping of souls up into the clouds but heaven come to earth. It’s land reform, people.

But it’s people reform, too: blind eyes opened, deafness cured, lepers healed, the dead raised. It is justice executed: food for the hungry, prisoners set free, the rich sent away empty. It is good news, at long last, for the poor.
(Advent Outdoors)
The richness of the good news that surfaces in the readings for Advent is revolutionary in the deepest sense of that term. Walter Brueggemann advises us that:

The news is that big change is coming. Mary sings (in Luke) her revolutionary song about the reversal of social arrangements and Isaiah offers a poem about homecoming for the alienated. Advent is about pondering the big changes that are set in motion by Christmas.
In the narrative about Jesus in Matthew 11, John the Baptizer wonders whether Jesus is the long expected Messiah. Jesus urges John to consider the “facts on the ground,” which are the consequences of Jesus’ effective ministry. The list of beneficiaries of that ministry is not unlike that in Psalm 146. The list includes the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf, the dead, and the poor (Matthew 11:5), that is, all the devalued and marginalized.. In the psalm “the Lord” does the work. In the narrative, Jesus does the work. Ergo … yes, Jesus is the Messiah. Yes, Jesus is the one expected and welcomed. It is no wonder that Mary sang her revolutionary song: the birth and ministry of Jesus constitute a social revolution that keeps reverberating through every time and place. (The Jesus Revolution)
How do we wait for such a revolution? We are in this for the long haul as the reading from James reminds us.  We wait patiently for the rain, we can't rush it, we can't live without it and sometimes it comes down not as the Palestinian farmers knew it in regular quantities and at regular times, but as we have experienced it in Canberra this week unexpectedly and with a force that reminds us we are not in control.

What does patience mean in a time of speed, where speed translates increasingly into violence against the world, animals and people, psychologically and physically. Note the kangaroos killed on the road, the people who lose family members in the road toll, those people who are notable to keep up with technology which places more and more demands on us to fit in with the drive to efficiency and has little pity for those who cannot accommodate themselves to its demands.

The ultimate in speed is war in which we refuse to take the time to converse with our enemy and assume that only the speed of violence can bring about change and justice. Patience begins with James reminds us not complaining against one another. Taking the time to listen. Patience is non-violence as a practice which trusts that we have all the time we need to be changed by our neighbour and by God so that we might be able to recognise and respond with joy to the changes that Advent is announcing when they actually arrive.

 

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Different take on Non-violence

William Cavanaugh provides a different take on the theoloogical rationale for non-violence.
Christians who embrace non-violence are often accused of unrealistically trying to impose a perfectionist ethic on mere sinful human beings. I find it remarkable that travelling to the other side of the world to shoot people is considered somehow everyday and mundane, while refraining is considered impossibly heroic.
The reason we should reject violence is not from a prideful conviction that we are the pure in a world full of evil. The gospel call to non-violence comes from the realization that we are not good enough to use violence, not pure enough to direct history through violent means. Peacemaking requires not extreme heroism, but a humble restraint in identifying enemies, and an everyday commitment to caring for members of one's body in mundane ways: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, all of whom, Jesus says, are Jesus himself.
Christian non-violence imitates Jesus' nonviolence, but it also participates in Jesus' self-emptying into sinful humanity, his sharing in the brokenness of the world. It is this peacemaking that we enact in sharing the broken bread of the Eucharist.
Breaking Bread, Making Peace

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Blogging through Advent - 2nd Sunday

Advent 2 (Year A) 
Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12
 
The readings for Advent seem to bring out the best in the compilers of the lectionary. The readings hang together, the connections are not forced and we find ourselves confronted with themes that run deep in the tradition. We sense and are given theological and narrative warrants for the connections between Isaiah, Jesus and the prophet John.

The passage in Romans shows Paul at his most Jewish, writing as a Jew about the inclusion of the pagans in mutual care in the new community that God is bringing into being. Doug Lee in the meditation on the these readings on the Ekklesia Project Blog draws out the political implications of these readings in his critique of the limits of a liberal polity. Paul in his reference to Isaiah declares that the ancient promise is on the way to fulfilment.

The day of hope has come, for Jesse’s root has risen to rule the Gentiles (Romans 15:12). While Isaiah sees only the eventual emergence of the coming king (“he shall stand”), the Greek translation cited by Paul signals something far more startling. It employs the word regularly utilized for “resurrection” and thus ignites Paul’s proclamation that Christ’s rising from the dead actualizes apocalyptic day of hope. “The Lord of our longing has conquered the night,” declares the lyrics of the Catholic hymn City of God. God has fulfilled the longing of Israel and the nations, and so Paul proclaims Christ as Lord of the nations to those who live under the nose of that Roman pretender, Caesar.

But this is far from revolutionary ideology or political theory. For Paul, all politics is local.

Therefore, the politics of hope begin at home, in the church, and around the table. The weak and the strong shall sit together at table and not devour each other with their condescension and condemnation. They can now eat together without qualms about each other’s dietary restrictions or voting affiliations.

Under Caesar and American liberalism, the best humanity can hope for is to maintain a sham unity enforced by power. When we bump up against intractable differences, the most we can practice is a tolerance that allows us to coexist but at a safe distance from one another. “Peace” is won through enforced division.

But under the reign of the coming king, the people of God are liberated from merely tolerating each other, from practicing that forced cordiality that plagues too many of our relationships in the church, and from mouthing that nonsense that we are all the same on the inside.

Christ did not die for generic people; he died as a servant of the circumcised and to fulfill God’s promises to the Hebrew people. Christ did not live at a safe distance from others so that everyone could go on pleasing themselves; he denied himself so that the Gentiles might be grafted and join a redeemed Israel in praising God with one voice. Therefore, we welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us. We see that we could never be whole without each other, even in—and because of—our differences. We disturb the powers, liberal and imperial, when people who have no business eating together share one table. Our little welcomes are deeply interpersonal and vastly public, political, and apocalyptic at the same time. Paul’s politics of hope is practiced in the near and now. The Power of Hope : American and Apocalyptic
More particularly according to the Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggeman, the Advent readings announce the end of the world as we know it, not through some spiritual experience detached from the world that we live in, but in practices of hope living towards justice in that very same world. A generic spirituality just doesn't cut it in the Scripture readings for Advent. The account of the readings that he offers us challenges much about what we thought being a Christian was all about. If we are not uncomfortable with the status quo and its distribution of power and wealth then it may be doubtful whether we have begun to grasp, or be grasped by the message of Advent.
In the epistle reading, Paul writes of God's truthfulness, by which he means reliability. God does what God says, that is, keeps God's word. This same God is described as the "God of hope", (verse 13). God's truth is about God's resolve to transform our world, to make it utterly new. That is why Gentiles may rejoice, praise, and hope (verses 9-12). And we believers, out of that promise, are invited to joy, peace, and power (verse 13).

So we ask, what is the promise? As the lectionary is arranged, we are bound to say the governing promise is the coming of a new leader, of the line of David. Both Psalm 72 and Isaiah 11 articulate a new leader who will be empowered by the Spirit (Isaiah 11:2), who will have great dominion and much prosperity (Psalm 72: 8-11, 16). The common element in these two poetic forays is that the new governor will attend to the well-being, equity, and worth of the poor, marginalized, and disenfranchised: "May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy and crush the oppressor" (Psalm 72:4). Also, "With righteousness he will judge the poor, and decide with equity for the poor of the earth" (Isaiah 11:4).


... the pivotal point is the transformed situation of the poor. That is what the coming governor will do.


Note that the promise is not social evolution or developmental improvement. It is rather the inversion of the present in which the devalued will become the properly valued. So the promise is, at the same time, an enormous hope and a heavy judgment on how things now are. The function of the promise is to make the present provisional and tentative, even while we tend to make it absolute and treat it as an eternal arrangement.


In Matthew 3:1-12 the promised sovereign now draws near in the words of John the Baptist. Matthew uses the language of Isaiah 40:3 to envision a homecoming of the new king in triumphant procession. John calls for repentance (verse 2), which means ending old loyalties for the embrace of the new regime.


Jesus did indeed come to do exactly what Psalm 72 and Isaiah 11 had promised. He came to cause inversion, to displace the old marginalizing arrangement. He summoned people to abandon the old patterns for God's new truthfulness.


It does not surprise us that John has conflict with the ones who value the present arrangement (verse 7). The establishment figures do not understand that this coming of the new king means the end of privilege and priority. They trivialize the baptism of Advent as a religious act without realizing that it means the end of the known world.


And so John disputes with them, urging that their pedigrees of status, conviction, and influence are of no use, because all these belong to the old age now placed in deep jeopardy. The lesson ends in verse 12 with images of harsh judgment on those who hold too intensely to old power arrangements that do not grant access to the poor and marginal. ...


Advent is for pondering the promise. And so it is a time for joy. But Advent is also a time for sober inventory, to face how deeply enmeshed in and committed to the old regime we are. Many of us benefit from the marginality of the poor, and we do not want it to change. In the real commitments of our lives, we are deeply in conflict with the new reign. And we are without hope, meaning we do not want, expect, or welcome the new leader. In our moments of honesty, we crave our hopelessness because it lets us keep things as they are.


But the new sovereign comes on the wind—by the Spirit (Isaiah 11:2, Matthew 3:11, Romans 15:13). That means he cannot be stopped and will not be resisted. The Spirit works through us, among us, and even against us. The Spirit in these days would indeed work against our hopelessness to let us hope.
Amen and amen!

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Defining Terrorism

Like the terms community and religion, the definition of terrorism has proved controversial and created a literature of its own. In his powerful work The War on Terrorism and the Terror of God, Lee Griffith makes a couple of salient points on the relationship between religion and terrorism and how we might define it.

On the relation with religion he comments:

O Brother Job, the terrors are with us still. The raiders still come and the firepower falls from the sky: the winds still rage and the edge of the sword is bloody (Job1:13-19). While some suffer these horrors others try to sleep. Are these terrifying dreams by which sleep is invaded a warning from God (Job 33:14-18). While the source of the dreams is unclear, in Lebanon, the violence can be traced to its sources. When we follow the trail, and trace the violence back we do not find God. We find a mad confluence of godlets. We find principalities and powers; imperial nation states and barely organised guerilla fronts, all self exalted , all petty, and all appealing to as much inhumanity as humans can muster. It is called liberation and martyrdom. It is called defense and justice. Call it what you will. It is terrorism. (p.6)

Griffith goes on to suggest that in the confusion of defining what terrorism is perhaps we should let the victims of violence do the defining.

... what better experts are there? They recognise it when they see it. Both the US Marines subject to the truck bombing in Beirut and the Lebanese citizens subject to US shelling - they knew terrorism when they saw it. The women who are subject to rape and abuse, the African Americans who are subject to racist attack, the gay men and lesbians who are beaten in homophobic rage - they all know terrorism when they see it. Hutus and Tutsis, Palestinians and Israelis, Iraqis and Kuwaitis, Serbs and Croats - they all see and they know. No matter the identity of the perpetrators or the class of their weaponry or the nature of the motivation it is terrorism. (p.8)

Light, Love and Resurrection in "A World Lost"

At the conclusion of Wendel Berry's short novel A World Lost, Andy Catlett who has told the story of his Uncle Andrew, his murder when he was a child and his attempt many years later to unpack the events of that day, reflects on the members of his family and the way their story has unfolded.
One by one, the sharers in this mortal damage have borne its burden out of the present world ... At times perhaps I could wish them merely oblivion. But how can I deny that in my belief they are risen?

I imagine the dead waking, dazed, into a shadowless light in which they know themselves altogether for the first time. It is a light that is merciless until they can accept its mercy; by it they are at once condemned and redeemed. It is Hell until it is Heaven. Seeing themselves in that light, if they are willing, they see how far they have failed the only justice of loving one another; it punishes them by their own judgment. And yet, in suffering that light's awful clarity, in seeing themselves within it, they see its forgiveness and its beauty and are consoled. In it they are loved completely, even as they have been , and so are changed into what they could not havbe been, but what, if they could have imagined it, they would have wished to be.

That light can come into the world only as love, and love can enter only by suffering. Not enough light has ever reached us here among the shadows and yet I think it has never been entirely absent.

Remembering, I suppose, the best days of my childhood, I used to think I wanted most of all to be happy - by which I meant to be here and undistracted, I thought I would be at home.


But now I have been here a fair amount of time, and slowly I have learned that my true home is not just this place but is also that company of immortals with whom I have lived here day by day. I live in their love, and I know something of the cost> Somewhere in the darkness of my own shadow I know that I could not see at all were it not for this old injury of love and grief, this little flickering lamp that I have watched beside for all these years. (p.326 - pagination from the the reprinting of A World Lost in Three Short Novels)

Wendell Berry and pastoral theology - Part 3

As discussed in the two earlier blogs on this theme, Wendell Berry has provided us with some closely observed and challenging accounts of pastoral care, in which a one way relationship often assumed on such occasions is challenged and something closer to a mutuality is demonstrated, a mutuality that challenges the expectations of the clergy involved.

In a recent engaging collection of essays, Wendell Berry and Religion: Heaven's Earthly Life edited by Joel James Shuman and Roger L Owens, (for an interesting review of the book see the review "Living the Incarnation" by Ragan Sutterfield) there is an essay by the Baptist minister Kyle Childress "Proper Work: Wendell Berry and the Practice of Ministry".

Berry is a farmer. How, asks Childress, are we to read him as a pastoral theologian?

"I engage Berry as a guide to good pastoral ministry" says Childress, "by starting where he starts, with his place. Place is a beginning from which to counter disincarnate forms of the Christian faith that raise the hackles of Wendell Berry and go against the grain of biblical faith that is lived out in the flesh."(p.73)

Childress reported that he wanted to commit to a congregation for the long haul - to pastor like Berry farms. "Just as Berry committed to staying on the farm, somewhere along the way I decided I needed to do the same - commit to a particular congregation of people over the long haul." (p.73)

The chapter is a report that bounces Childress's experience of pastoral ministry over 15 years at a Baptist church in rural Texas against insights from Berry's writing particularly his stories and novels.
Instead of designing  a blueprint for how the farm ought to be and then reworking the farm to fit the design, Berry pays attention to the particularities of the land itself and listen to others who might have wisdom about what has worked well in this place and what has not.  He works patiently and humbly and lovingly. There is a kind of "hermeneutics of farming" similar to the late Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder's hermeneutics of peoplehood", in which one patiently and humbly listens to the sense of the congregation and the Bible and the Spirit in a particular context.  (p.76)
Childress explains what this has meant for him with regard to dealing with issue of racism. He started out in the full prophetic "thus says the Lord" mode.  But after  conflict and near brawls with some people ... I began to pay attention to my congregation and to what God was saying through themas well as to them. I began to learn he says, ...how to do a hermeneutics of peoplehood, sitting on front porches, and working gardens with the people, and drinking iced tea afterward while listening to their stories, including their stories of race and fear. As a result my preaching and teaching changed. I still talked about race, but how I talked about it was different. My sermons began to grow out of a conversation between the people and the Bible and the place where we lived. (p.76)

Childress points that while Berry's writing is drenched with the Bible, one of the key stories and images is that of the lost sheep and the lost son in Luke 15. These stories provide a lens through which he explores how he sees what community, friendship and the extended family look like. Stories that reflect these images include "Making it Home" in which a lost son who has been away at the war is journeying back home, "Thicker than Liquor" is about a nephew seeking his lost drunk uncle and bringing him home, "Watch with Me" is an account of a community watching out for a lost member who has had a "spell" come over him and concludes with a sermon from the one who was lost on the parable from the point of view of the sheep that was lost.


This is truly a counter - cultural account of what pastoral care is all about in shaping ministry by the images of being an attentive patient farmer and in the rejection of the model of a professional career with the implication of needing to move on and climb the ladder.