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My son is at that stage where he loves to ask questions. We can’t sit through a single minute of an Olympic event without engaging in a dialectic about what “that man on skis” is doing. Some times its fun. And at others, well, its a little annoying.

What I love about it though is that nothing can be taken for granted. This past week, I had my theological limits put to the test at my uncle’s funeral. You can’t pull anything past my son, and it only took a few minutes for him to catch on that “Uncle Bill” wasn’t sleeping. I was glad he asked. And I am glad I could be there to answer what he wanted to know. That way I knew he was getting a real answer and not some pithy dismissal that are too frequent at funerals.

Those exchanges pushed me to think about where we get our theology. Because my son was asking similar questions about heaven and death, I listened to how the adults in the room were talking about God. It was amazing to me how the least religious in the room could conjure up a theological vocabulary. Where did their language find its roots?

As I think about discipleship and theology in the Brethren tradition I can’t help but ask the same question. Where are our pastors, lay leaders, and congregation members getting their theology. I would venture a guess that it isn’t just one source. But as soon as I think that, I shudder to think of the types of sources Brethren find helpful in thinking about God.

What scares me the most is that the preponderance of sources are from outside Brethren circles. In other words, our members are more likely to get their devotions, theology, and personal guidance from the local Christian bookstore or radio station than they are to find Brethren sources. If nothing else, shouldn’t their spiritual and theological vocabulary be coming from the congregational community in which they participate?

I know I am barely scratching the surface, but I still wonder- “from whence our theology”?

This past fall I co-taught a course on Protestantism. Of course in the midst of preparations I had to re-study the sacramental debates of the early reformers. At the risk of oversimplification the positions ranged from an elaborate theosophical argument for real presence to an equally intricate spirit guided memorial understanding.

We as Brethren have tended toward, if not staked our claim with, the memorial camp. This can be confirmed in the 20th century work of Vernard Eller, titled In Place of Sacraments. Though a bit polemical at times, the sum of Eller’s critique follows the Reformation critiques of the economics of salvation (Luther and the Indulgences) and crude physicalism (Zwingli and memorialism).

To be sure, I do have some sympathy with these critiques. Yet, in an equal measure, I balk at the wholesale rejection of the idea of sacraments because of a nearly 400 year old controversy.

Let me explain. At the heart of sacramental thinking is the conviction that God is active in the material world. The prime expression of that action is in the Incarnation, in Jesus the Christ. When we dismiss the sacramentality of the Eucharist, along with the other sacraments, we effectively limit God’s actions to the past. We have no means to remind ourselves that God is indeed working here and now. In effect we are forced to expect extraordinary miracles rather than a seemingly mundane moment of worship.

Its even more important given our HIGHLY incarnational view of our work as the Church. When we see our times of worship as so one dimensional (earth centered, aimed at God) rather than just as incarnational as our service (where the Divine and the human co-operate within a hurting world), what foundation do we have? Put another way, we lack the spiritual grounding for ethical activities.

How do you understand the relationship of Incarnation and Service?

Maybe it’s my exposure to a disproportionately large percentage of Church of the Brethren folks who are seminary trained and highly ecumenically involved, but it seems to me that there is a growing interest within our tradition in more “liturgically-oriented” worship practices.

I can think of several examples of this: more Brethren pastors following the Lectionary, increased interest in special, more liturgical services like Ash Wednesday, Tenebrae, etc., and even movement toward a more high-church style of worship on Sunday mornings.

I’ll admit that I too find myself appreciating and being influenced by such liturgical expressions, especially as they relate to more ancient Christian practices that pre-date the Protestant Reformation. Still, I’m left wondering, “why?”

Despite my opening statement, I don’t think it is just the highly ecumenical and the seminary folks who connect with this trend. In my own congregation we’ve begun having more of these small gatherings, like tonight’s Ash Wednesday service, and it’s a relatively broad demographic that generally attends. Another good example of this is last year’s Tenebrae service, when a group of about 20 local college students came and participated. It seems to me that young adults and youth particularly are finding deep connections with these kinds of worship.

My questions for you are: Does any of this ring true in your experience? What are your thoughts as to why we might be witnessing this shift within our tradition which has been very “low-church” for many years? How do you personally find yourself connecting (or dis-connecting) with more liturgically-leaning worship?

Friends, let me first apologize for not posting last week. Between travel and the snow here on the East Coast, it slipped past my calendar that it was my turn to post!  What i means is double the posts for you this week, so enjoy!

The role of the Church in public life, and in particular in political life, has long been a question debated within the Church of the Brethren. Set up to be a community apart – in the world but not of it, the church for a long time stayed outside of, and not involved in, the political world that surrounded it. In the last century, however, that relationship has changed dramatically. As the church has become more and more involved in the society which surrounds them, the political realm has been no different. We are now elected officials, and consistently participate in the political process.

The question, then, is what this means. Alan Storkey, in his text “Jesus and Politics: Confronting the Powers” writes,

But there is more to it than that. The disciples started to learn, but knowledge of the rule of God means far more than this central insight. It would systematically change every area of politics. It means submission to God’s law, seeking justice, meekness rather than assertiveness, addressing disputes we have caused, keeping rulers humble, redistributing wealth, reconciling nations and classes. It requires leaders to be put in their place, with no ruler worship. The humble are to be lifted up and the arrogant cut down to size. In its scope, this is the greatest political revolution ever, as the gentle rule of Christ voluntarily settles on humanity, with its structural principles and insights (280).

Especially in light of the closing last year of the Brethren Witness/Washington Office, what does this mean for the future of the CoB’s witness in the political realm? What is the appropriate role of the Church in politics? In what way should we participate? These are the questions on my mind as I consider the question of faith and politics. And, as a way of suggesting a possible answer, as a part of Ecumenical Advocacy Days in DC, this coming March, there will be a Church of the Brethren lunch centering around the role of peace churches in the immigration conversation. So, what do you think is the appropriate role for the church in the politics of this world?

From John Howard Yoder’s “The Politics of Jesus”:

Jesus was, in his divinely mandated (i.e., promised, anointed, messianic) prophethood, priesthood, and kingship, the bearer of a new possibility of human, social, and therefore political relationships. His baptism is the inauguration and his cross is the culmination of that new regime in which his disciples are called to share. Hearers or readers may choose to consider that kingdom as not real, or not relevant, or not possible, or not inviting; but no longer can we come to this choice in the name of systematic theology or honest hermeneutics […] No such slicing can avoid his call to an ethic marked by the cross, a cross identified as the punishment of a man who threatens society by creating a new kind of community leading a radically new kind of life (52-53).