Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Waiting for Gospel, by Ddouglas John Hall

Chapter 7 – The Identity & Meaning of the Self

1.  This essay is built upon Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s short poem, “Who Am I?”  As Hall notes, it considers three possible responses to the question it raises.  The first response is “Other-Determined Selfhood.”  Dependence on this response “leads to the dark side,” as Darth Vader would put it.  “To be dependent upon others for one’s sense of identity and purpose is surely one of the most demeaning personal forms of human oppression.”

Why is this response so prevalent today?  Where have you struggled with this response over the years? 

2.   The second response is “Self-Determined Selfhood.”  While all of us move between these first two responses, the second promotes the illusion of the “self-made man.”  Later, Hall writes, “Thus, from the third chapter of Genesis onwards, the quest for human self-sufficiency is shown to be the most pathetic of human quests: starting out to make ourselves great, we end by being smaller than ever.  Seeking, like the pair in the Garden, to be ‘like gods,’ we regularly end by being less than authentically human – and by knowing that we are…‘naked.’”  (Does it feel drafty?)

Again, why is this response so prevalent today?  Where have you struggled with this response over the years? 

3.  Our faith tradition, in an effort to hold the first two responses in check, turns to a third possibility: “Responsive Selfhood.”  Bear with me, here, as I share several choice quotes.

“Torn between the identity laid upon us by others and the self that we feel (or perhaps fear) ourselves to be, we lack both integration and direction.”  “And such a recognition ought to be regarded by us all as a matter of hope, for it affirms the importance – even the potentially redemptive significance – precisely of periods such as ours, periods of confusion and spiritual doubt.  Perhaps in these gray, twilight times real thought, as distinct from ideology and mere convention, is possible – and real faith, too, as distinct from rote religious habit and mere credulity!”

Does this ring a bell?  How so?

“The first (observation) is that this last and only satisfying response to the question of personal identity and meaning is a response…without being an answer.”  “Not an answer, then, but the presence of the Answerer: that is the response that Bonhoeffer receives, at last, to his, who am I?”  “Religion wants to have answers – preferably in very explicit, propositional form.  Faith, which is to say trust in the Eternal Other, is content to know that it is known…”

“The second observation: Because it refuses to claim finality for itself, because the Source of its confidence lies in a trust that transcends the self, faith is free to open itself to all the answers to the identity and meaning of the self that the human mind and spirit devises; it is free to discourse with reason; it is free to discourse even with doubt – perhaps even especially with doubt, including self-doubt.” 

Does this make you feel better?  How so?

“Humankind as a whole seems incapable of living with its own deepest questions, and will resolve them superficially – even knowing its answers to be superficial! – rather than living with trust in our creaturehood and in its Creator.”

“Whenever that self…finds itself once again thrust naked into the burning questions of its being, meaning, and destiny, it must again discover the only satisfying answer, the answer that is beyond all the answers: ‘Whoever I am, thou knowest, O God, I am thine.’”

Wow…that really makes me feel better!!  How about you?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Waiting for Gospel, by Douglas John Hall

Chapter 6 – The Theology of the Cross

God bless Douglas John Hall…but this had to be one of the most arduous essays he’s ever written.  It’s brilliant, of course, but entirely too lengthy, complex…and needlessly short on common vernacular.  I’m reducing this chapter to its basic points so we can attempt to digest the valuable theological nuggets buried deep within Hall’s eloquent, yet rambling, dissertation.  Uff da!

1.  Hall offers two preliminary observations.  First, Martin Luther championed the term, “theology of the cross,” and contrasted it with a “theology of glory.”  Second, Luther’s considerable thoughts and contributions are valuable, not only for their historical significant, but for their contemporary role, as well.  Hall directs his interest toward this second observation and application of Luther’s theology.  

What do you know of Martin Luther as an historical figure, and what do you see as his contributions to our present context?

2.  Hall sees the theology of the cross as having a “usable past.”  In seeking to frame the term, he notes it “refers to a spirit and method that one brings to all one’s reflections on all the various areas and facets of Christian life and faith.”  It cannot be stated concisely in a formula, but it can be recognized in various theological expressions.  

Briefly (ha!) review his “informing principles of this theology.”  How does each inform our faith?

- The first is “the compassion and solidarity of God.” 
- The second is “the cross as world commitment.” 
- The third is “honesty about experience (Christian realism)”
- The fourth is “the contextual character of this theology.”
- The fifth is “the refusal of finality.”

3.  Hall concludes with his meditation on the three Pauline virtues: faith, love, and hope…and how they effectively address the opposite of each within the theology of the cross.  

How do we, as Lutherans, embrace and promote these virtues in our context?