Monday, September 4, 2017

The Nacreous Statement

There's been a lot of buzz lately about the Bashville Statement (I will be calling The Nashville Statement this moving forward, since the very city who holds the most legitimate claim to the name, has disavowed themselves of it) came out last week. Many are opining on whether the statement is "right vs. wrong" or "true vs. false" and even "good versus bad." And many counter-statements can be easily be found.  This is my attempt to articulate my concerns with the Bashville Statement.

Such statements (statements which seek to draw lines of inclusivity and exclusivity, which seek to make clear where the line is that demarcates the supposed boundary that separates those who are "in grace" and those who are "out of grace") are nothing new.  The many church creeds that we all know and claim were created to delineate the difference between orthodox belief and ideologies that had drifted into heretical thought. These statements were based on the gospel and were written to clarify and to promulgate the gospel.  In short:  they were Gospel Products. But the Bashville Statement, despite it's claim to be one such statement, is not one of these. The Nashville Statement is not a Gospel Product. Here's why...

The problem that we have here is in definitions. Definitions prescribe premises and premises produce products. I'd like to assert that if you start out with an ill-defined premise, the product you produce won't be capable of producing the result you had intended. Bear with me on this. 

In order to be able to bless the world, our understanding of God (our theology) has to be on the mark, so to speak.  As Karl Barth said:  "If we get God wrong, we get everything wrong."  Likewise, if we get the gospel wrong (our understanding of salvation and what Jesus came to proclaim and enact), we get everything wrong, as well.  Our sotieriology and our understanding of gospel has to be accurate, but it has to be charitable, relevant, meaningful, and attractive as well.  That is what it means to be “the aroma of Christ”- our understanding of the Triune God should be such that it is irresistibly compelling.  We need to be able to speak the language of those around us, and we need to have eyes that see the world through their eyes.  We need to know that the world is evaluating our behavior and are well aware of our hypocrisy when we sit around and ruminate about our theologies and doctrines, but fail to actually be the gospel.  We need to be able to move ourselves from our sanctuaries into the world and theologize with our actions.  Christian theology is most compelling when it acts out its understanding of God in palpable ways that actually flesh out our oftentimes ambiguous and otherworldly conceptualizations. This starts with our understanding the gospel and enacting it well.

What is often described as the "core business of Christianity" (i.e. forgiveness of [personal] sin [behaviors]) is considered by many to be "the gospel." This is generally the byline of the subset of Christianity we know as 20th century evangelical Christians.  But Christianity is an old and wide river, and this is only one small rivulet in the stream. To many others, this understanding of the gospel is considered to be a stripped down (anemic) characterization. Indeed, it is some of the gospel, but not all of it. Not by far. This stripped-down version takes into account what some of the Pauline writings say about salvation (albeit through the lens of late-day theologians such as Abelard and equally watered down explanations of justification...but that's a post for a different day).  It doesn't even bother to take into account what Jesus himself said the gospel was.  Seriously,  if Jesus' death is what the gospel is about in it's entirety, then it is impossible that he himself could have preached the gospel (because it had not even happened yet...). But Jesus did preach the gospel, the Bible tells us so. So, what is the gospel, then if it is not merely about the cross? 

A robust gospel is about way more than personal sin and individual soul-salvation. It takes into account the restoration of all things; the reconciliation of all of creation to God, to God's intent, and to each other. It is holistic and all-encompassing. It includes physical healing, justice for the socially deprived and oppressed and outcast; it is saving and freeing in its barrier-demolishing and merciful hospitality. It begins with the prophetic good news to the poor...of restoration of sight to the blind, freedom to those in bondage and oppressed, that Jesus preached about in that little synagogue in Nazareth, when he said that scripture had been fulfilled "in your midst". Did you get that?  The gospel had been fulfilled...right there and then, mind you... and the Cross Event had yet to take place!  This Robust Gospel moves to The Mount of Olives where it is proclaimed from a hillside to thousands…no mention of the cross here or of soul salvation, mind you... And it was circulated throughout the towns and villages where it is preached and it was taught and it always was preached and taught accompanied by healing. A Robust Gospel heals. A Robust Gospel saves, to be sure...body, souls, mind, spirit, relationships....ALL of creation!  A Robust Gospel demolishes strongholds. A Robust Gospel proclaims that the kingdom is here and now, just as Jesus proclaimed "the kingdom is among you". A Robust Gospel has less to do about "getting people into the kingdom" than it does in helping people to recognize the kingdom is already within them. A Robust Gospel doesn't have "social justice" as an add-on, neither does it expect that the "government will take care of problems". A Robust Gospel addresses everything because it's the real deal. A Robust Gospel draws all things to itself. A Robust Gospel delivers (in both senses of the word). A Robust Gospel doesn't appeal to itching ears, but it doesn't offend the nose, either.  A Robust Gospel smells like Jesus. A Robust Gospel does not produce products like the Nashville Statement. 

So that's where the differences begin:  in our basic sotieriologies (our theologies of salvation).  Unless we have a theology that describes God as hospitable and which attributes to God a mission of offering healing, release, rescue, haven, solace, hospitus, to the stranger-other (not over and against, but combined with- or more accurately- as part of the salvation/conversion process)...then we have a less-than-robust sotieriology.  Such a sotieriology/gospel is inadequate to speak to us and is not able to help us to rightly form our imaginations regarding our mission and our response to our neighbors. Such a sotieriology cannot produce a robust "product" that is capable of drawing anyone toward transformation. But it can produce a diatribe. Because it's roots are established in an anemic gospel, for all its fancy verbiage, for all its well-crafted language, the Bashville statement is a product that is incapable of performing the most basic function of the gospel...healing. 

And for this reason...bereft of a true understanding of the gospel of love, The Bashville Statement (as the Apostle Paul would opine)... rings hollow in the end and is incapable of either proclaiming or promulgating the gospel. So this leaves me scratching my head: what, then, was the point?

Sunday, March 29, 2015

PALM Sunday: To The One who rode in on a gentle donkey, and not a warhorse- Be all praise and honor forever

DID YOU KNOW: The Palm Sunday story is in all four gospels, yet Jesus' birth narrative is in only two?

Be blessed on this VERY important day!

May you each feel the deep solemnity and joy of this Holy Week.


...To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Eph 3:21)

Saturday, March 28, 2015

But Lord...He Stinketh...

Today is Lazarus Saturday, the day that the "Church universal" traditionally 

commemorates Jesus' resurrection of Lazarus. Lazarus was one of Jesus' three documented death-to-life miracles, but is the most dramatic and significant.  

The reason for this can be found in the words of Martha, Lazarus' sister. First...the story, which is found in the Gospel of John, chapter 11, verses 1 to 45. 

Jesus is out of town, a messenger comes to tell him that his best friend Lazarus is deathly ill.  Because it has taken the messenger days to reach Jesus and his group, any reasonable person of that time and place would have assumed that the man spoken of would be dead. Jesus did, and in the practical and pragmatic way of the Ancients, stayed put. This seems a little off to us, after all, we know what's happening in real time and it's in our cultural DNA to respond swiftly and effectively to issues. Not so in the Ancient Near East. They responded to a different rhythm and lived at a different pace. When Jesus does finally make his way back, Lazarus who has been dead a number of days, embalmed, buried and placed in a tomb is eventually raised to life again by Jesus' prayer to his Abba father God. 

But the story-within-the-story is really the juiciest part... Bookended between verses 27 and 39 we see the mini story of Martha's conversion. We see her tell Jesus in verse 27 that she believes in him, and she declares he is the Christ.  Then, she runs and calls her sister to come to Jesus and the two of them spend some seriously formative and emotionally intimate time with Jesus communally processing all kinds of raw feelings and being vulnerable and present to each other. Then Jesus gets ready to move beyond the emotion to action, and Martha... confused by the facts... says:  "But Lord...he stinks...he's putrefying!" Seriously...she went there:  Buzz kill.  MAJOR buzz kill.

In those mere twelve verses, the writer takes us through all the major steps of conversion (wrestling, belief, joy, desire to draw others in, shared intimacy, and tada: disbelief). And that's the beauty of it.  I don't know about you, but this story bolsters me and comforts me immensely.  Why?  Because Jesus doesn't let the story end in a buzz kill. He doesn't let Martha's temporary insane disbelief be the last word.   He doesn't let her speak her reality into his plans to showcase a new in which death has no power, and the impossible is possible; one in which putrefaction can be purified and repurposed. 

So, dear friends: 
Let's not let our  "this stinks beyond redemption" moments be the last word. Let us allow Jesus' redeeming, healing, repurposing-of-putrefaction-power have the Final Say in the midst of our messy lives!

May You Be Blessed on this gloomy Lazarus Saturday, in the hopeful knowledge that Resurrection Sunday is coming!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Call to Be Attuned to the Rhythms of Emptying and Filling~

As for the very first time, I hear the words of Mary, the mother of Jesus, as she says:   "Here I am, the Lord’s humble servant. As you have said, let it be done to me." (Luke 1:38, The Voice)[1], and I understand at a much deeper level her prophetic declaration in her Magnificat, when she says:
46 My soul lifts up the Lord!
47     My spirit celebrates God, my Liberator!
48     For though I’m God’s humble servant,
 God has noticed me.
    Now and forever,
        I will be considered blessed by all generations.
49     For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
        holy is God’s name!
50     From generation to generation,
        God’s lovingkindness endures
        for those who revere Him.
51     God’s arm has accomplished mighty deeds.
        The proud in mind and heart,
        God has sent away in disarray.
52     The rulers from their high positions of power,
        God has brought down low.
    And those who were humble and lowly,
        God has elevated with dignity.
53     The hungry—God has filled with fine food.
        The rich—God has dismissed with nothing in their hands.
(Luke 1:46-53, The Voice; emboldening mine)[2]

Because of a fear of being sent away empty-handed, I have heretofore, read myself into the station of the hungry one(s) mentioned in verse 53a.  Metaphorically, I have oft reasoned, I am hungry for so many things of The Spirit.  But I have not been honest, for fear of being turned away from the God who gives me my very sustenance.  As I have learned to re-read these words through the lens of the concept of kenosis,[3] I have moved from a place of defensiveness to a place of security. Reading Mary's words with kenotic eyes gives me the courage to be honest with myself and with my God.  What have I to fear from Him, for He is my Abba and has my best interest at heart?  To be dismissed with nothing in my hands no longer seems daunting.  Instead, it seems freeing.  After all, empty hands are more capable of receiving and reaching out. Empty hands are also more available for extending, and ...for embracing. 

“Theological hope can only come from a radical experience of our poverty.
As long as we are rich, we rely on our riches.
To learn hope, we have to pass through impoverishment.
These experiences are the prelude to experiencing
the goodness, faithfulness,
and power of God in a quite extraordinary way.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit”
—those stripped of everything by the Spirit—
“for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
~Jacques Phillippe, Interior Freedom


[1] Luke 1:38, ibid.
[2] Luke 1: 46-53, ibid.
[3]Kenosis is a term, although not mentioned specifically in scripture, is alluded to in the abovementioned Philippians passage.  More than humility, kenosis is "The spiritual act of pouring out oneself, of 'emptying' the self of its prerogatives..." and is "derived from the Greek word, kenoo, found in this passage of scripture which refers to Christ, and which means 'emptied himself'...'made himself nothing'..., and...'poured himself out'. from Pilgrim Heart:  The Way of Jesus in Everyday Life by Darryl Tippens.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A Holy Saturday Compline (Prayer Before Bed)

May you find a sense of peace in the quiet and darkness as you fall to sleep. May the commemoration of this day remind you that, like Jesus' tomb, even in the stillness and silence and in the areas of your life that seem dead and irredeemable, God is present and actively working out His plan of redemption and reconciliation. Rest well, knowing that, With tomorrow's dawn, His mercies will break forth anew and JOY will triumph! Amen.

Tracy B. Dickerson, 2014 ©

LENT DAY 40 (Post #2): DARK

We can only imagine the abject terror that filled the hearts of

Jesus' followers on this day some 2000 years ago...

It was surely an unimaginable dark nightmare for them.

At times, God puts us through the

discipline of darkness

to teach us to heed Him.

Song birds are taught to sing in the dark, and

we are put into the shadow of God’s hand until we learn to hear Him…
Are you in the dark just now in your circumstances,

or in your life with God?
When you are in the dark,

listen, and God will give you

a very precious message for someone

when you get in the light.

LENT DAY 40 (Post #1): WAIT

Black Saturday- The Silence of the Tomb

Today is the day we call “Holy Saturday,” or more appropriately “Black Saturday.” Today, after the pain and suffering of Good Friday, everything, more than ever, is silent as we WAIT for God. On Black Saturday, the Lord Jesus lies dead in His tomb, a shroud over Him. Take a moment to think about that and what it means. His tomb is wrapped in stony silence- the silence of death. As he had predicted, his frightened disciples are scattered and in hiding.

If we take time to recall, we are reminded that silence is a method God uses to speak to us. Silence such as this is not at all lack of communication; it refers not so much to the absence of sound and activity, but to a deeper awareness of things. The essence of the silence of Holy Saturday provides us with an understanding of the deep, essentialness of God in our lives. For, when we taste even the slightest withdrawal of Him from our presence, it is then that we understand fully that it is only in Him that we live and move and breathe.

In Hebrew the word ‘Shema’ means ‘listen to this’ or ‘hear this.’ In fact, a more accurate translation of the word ‘Shema’implies that you listen or hear and then act upon it. The title comes from Deut 6:3 which says, “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God! The LORD is One!”

In the quiet of Holy Saturday, God bids you to take action and listen for His voice...


Today, on Black Saturday, take some time in thinking about your life for a while. Perhaps recently, there is an area or aspect in your life where you are having difficulty finding God: it may be in prayer, a relationship, at work, at home, or some personal issues you may be facing. In other words, there may be an “empty tomb” in your life...

Maybe God is inviting you this Holy Week to "roll away the stone" and to look for Him in the very emptiness and silence of that place.

If this is what you are feeling, God may be inviting you to Embrace his silence, which is the Silence of the Empty tomb…the Silence of His Hidden Presence in your life.

In order to sense God’s presence in the ordinary and to recognize his action, even in our suffering and wounds, we need the silence of the empty tomb.

This Holy Saturday, may you find a sense of peace in the quiet anticipation of this day. May the commemoration of this day remind you that, like Jesus' tomb, even in the stillness and silence and in the areas of your life that seem dead and irredeemable, God is present and actively working out His plan of redemption and reconciliation.