“The name of [the] infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of all being is God. That depth is what the word God means. And if that word has not much meaning for you, translate it, and speak of the depths of your life, of the source of your being, of your ultimate concern, of what you take seriously without any reservation. Perhaps, in order to do so, you must forget everything traditional that you have learned about God, perhaps even that word itself. For if you know that God means depth, you know much about Him. You cannot then call yourself an atheist or unbeliever. For you cannot think or say: Life has no depth! Life itself is shallow. Being itself is surface only. If you could say this in complete seriousness, you would be an atheist; but otherwise you are not. He who knows about depth knows about God” (Paul Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations: 57).

“Prayer in personal worship may be expressed in various ways….One may contemplate God, moving beyond words and thoughts to communion of one’s spirit with the Spirit of God” (PC[USA] Book of Order W-5.4002).

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Earlier this week I stopped by the grocery store to pick up a package of romaine hearts. None of them seemed fresh. It was the 15th, and each one I picked up was stamped “use by 7/14.” I kept looking, though, and way underneath the stack were some marked “use by 7/21.” I wasn’t satisfied, wanting something still fresher. I was still searching when I heard a deep voice behind me. Another guy shopping was trying to save me some trouble. “They’re all the 14th,” he lamented. “You’d do better getting this” (pointing to a loose bunch of leaf lettuce). “Thanks,” I replied, “but I did find some good till the 21st.” “I should have dug deeper,” he said.

Sometimes we all have to dig deeper.

We have to when we’re angry with or hurt by someone, and we have to go way down inside ourselves in order to keep silent, refusing to let our heated or wounded emotions rule us and make a bad situation worse.

We need to dig deeper when we must find the courage to speak up for a person or a group of persons being ridiculed, marginalized, robbed of voice.

We mine the depths of our hearts when we are asked to take on a task we know will be incredibly difficult, like becoming a caregiver, but it’s the right thing to do.

We have to dig deeper when our prayers seem pointless, and/or we have no idea what to say, to a place beyond words, where the Spirit’s sighs are the only sound.

And in the depths*, we find something fresh and new (2 Corinthians 7:14).

© 2014 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.

*In Orthodox tradition this spiritual practice or way of doing theology is called apophasis, seeking and encountering the mystery of God beyond words and images. See, for example, http://theorthodoxlife.wordpress.com/2012/03/24/what-is-apophatic-theology/

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Recently I was considering updating my Internet browser. I had tried to do that once before, but apparently downloaded the Beta version of the software. Big mistake! My computer was totally FUBAR afterwards.

 

So I turned to Alston, my friend and go-to guy for IT, and asked about the safety of the program. He told me things should be fine, but just in case my computer experienced problems, I should create a “system restore point.” If the software didn’t “play nice,” he said, I had a way of returning my computer to the way it was before the bugs took over. 

 

I have yet to try to install the update, but in the meantime, I’ve realized that providing a “restore point” is a pretty good description of what God has done in Christ on the cross. Things are obviously terribly wrong with humanity. The “system” is full of “bugs” or really just one big Bug called “sin.” It’s responsible for everything from the greed and corruption of Wall Street to the anger of parent and teen against each other to the intolerance and hatred of “religious” people toward those who are different or of another faith.

 

Sin is not wrong acts. Those are symptoms of the root problem, what the Reformed tradition calls “radical depravity.” Sin is a broken relationship with God. Once that basic “operating system” is compromised, all sorts of terrible things happen. We’re alienated from each other and refuse to share in community and harmony with our neighbors. We fail to live out of our own best nature, which is to express the love and justice of the God who made us.

 

But in some way I don’t pretend to fully understand, the cross of Christ repaired the brokenness. What Jesus did on the cross set in motion the process that will end in the restoration of all creation to the way God intended it to be. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself,” said Paul (2 Corinthians 5:19).

 

Obviously, the time when the new creation comes is not yet, though we hope fervently for everything to be restored soon. In the interim, we can still look to the cross as our “restore point” where our faith in God can be made whole again, before doubt and fear took over. When we despair that anyone anymore acts selflessly: look at the cross. When we wonder if God cares: look at the cross. When feel burdened by sin: look at the cross. And be renewed, refreshed, restored.

 

© 2008 Tom Cheatham

“Owe no one anything, except to love one another…. Love does no harm to a neighbor” (Romans 13:8a, 10a, based on NRSV).

In last week’s post, I explored how Paul talks about actual debt and money in the text from Romans. How we spend our funds and the amount of debt we have are moral and ethical issues.

But even if none of us had any mortgages and paid for everything we got with cash and barter, there would still be a debt crisis in our land. Because every one of us owes, or ought to owe, a debt of love to our neighbors. No collectors call if we don’t pay. Our credit rating with the credit bureaus stays in the high numbers. But there are other, more dire consequences. Ironically, if we don’t pay this debt, our lives will be impoverished. We’ll be ruined at the deepest level of our being. We could have millions of dollars in the bank, but you and I would be morally and spiritually bankrupt.

We’re called on to pay this debt frequently. In fact, it comes due not just once a month or on Sundays, but every minute, every hour. The bill varies. Sometimes it’s really big, and we wince at the cost. Other times we can pay it with the smallest of coins.

But it’s an urgent responsibility. See, love is in danger of extinction worse than the polar bears or some other creature we hear about. We live in a malicious and mean-spirited society. Everywhere, including in the churches, I see prejudice and hatred, lying and backstabbing, the desire to get revenge and promote fear. Paul calls on us to stand against the culture and make the decision to love.

Let’s be very, very clear. Love is not a warm fuzzy, though who doesn’t like a soft kitten or cuddly puppy? He’s not talking about romantic attraction, though that is one of the greatest powers in the world. Love doesn’t mean never having to say you’re sorry, if you remember the old movie line. In fact, probably just the opposite. No. Love is a verb. And we all remember our grammar. A verb is an action word.

Paul sums up what he has in mind with one sentence: “Love does no harm to a neighbor.” Just seven words in English and in the original Greek. But unpacking that brief sentence is complicated.

A key question, of course, is “Who is my neighbor?” The Bible’s definition is quite broad, and the Greek word also means “fellow human being.” Certainly we think of those of the church and our immediate community. But is not anyone and everyone on this planet in some sense our neighbor, especially those in need?

And how can I know if I’m doing no harm? We would not think of striking and injuring someone. But are my spending and consumption hurting someone across the globe because the products I buy are made in a sweatshop and my neighbor in another country is thus working under miserable conditions so I can have a product? If I drive carelessly or when I’m angry, could I not very well harm my neighbor who is also driving his or her car or simply crossing the street? What if my off-hand, insensitive remark deeply wounds someone else?

Tough stuff. Enough to drive you crazy. Or to the cross.

Next week: Some help in answering the questions.

© 2008 Tom Cheatham