"I was absolutely thunderstruck by the extraordinary reality of the man I found in the Gospels. I discovered a man who was almost continually frustrated. His frustration leaps out of virtually every page: “What do I have to say to you? How many times do I have to say it? What do I have to do to get through to you?” I also discovered a man who was frequently sad and sometimes depressed, frequently anxious and scared.... A man who was terribly, terribly lonely, yet often desperately needed to be alone. I discovered a man so incredibly real that no one could have made Him up.
It occurred to me then that if the Gospel writers had been into PR and embellishment, as I had assumed, they would have created the kind of Jesus three quarters of Christians still seem to be trying to create . . . portrayed with a sweet, unending smile on His face, patting little children on the head, just strolling the earth with this unflappable, unshakable equanimity. .. . But the Jesus of the Gospels—--who some suggest is the best-kept secret of Christianity—--did not have much “peace of mind,” as we ordinarily think of peace of mind in the world’s terms, and insofar as we can be His followers, perhaps we won’t either." Scott Peck (Taken from Philip Yancey's The Jesus I Never Knew)
I wonder sometimes, which Jesus my church is following! Are we following the Jesus described above? The brooding, frustrated, anxious, scared, depressed, sad, desperate, and lonely Jesus described by Peck? The "real" Jesus? The one who suffers from the same human maladies? The "all too human" one found plainly in scripture? Who the hell would follow such a character?
It is no wonder the church spends most of its time avoiding this Jesus. They avoid him, like the drunk uncle who is no longer allowed at family functions. Nobody wants this guy around, not because of his embarrassing tattoos of scantily clad pinup girls, but because of his honesty. You never know what he will say, but you know it will always be brutally honest. Nobody wants that at a fancy dinner party, or a family backyard BBQ for that matter.
I like to think of my Jesus in this way, "real," stumbling into a dinner party, and taking a seat at the table of "sinners" and "tax collectors." All the "respectable" guests, appalled, whispering, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" You can't keep anything from drunk uncle; he hears everything, and always has some sharp retort. "Go and learn what this means. 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice' (said with drunken sarcasm). Of course, the respectable guests are aghast! I love drunk uncle.
It's no wonder, the well-churched don't want to hang with this Jesus. He is too unpredictable. He makes you feel uncomfortable, like at any moment he is going to call you on your bulllshit. This Jesus is too much of a risk to have stumbling around the church on Sunday mornings, or busting into a church council meeting on Tuesday night. It's not hard to imagine Jesus flying off the handle upon hearing some of the silly church stuff we find so damn important.
Imagine this Jesus showing up at church, unannounced, one Easter morning. I wonder if he would even be recognized, or if he would recognize himself in any of the pomp? I like to think that he would be the guy walking around the Narthex, the one that none of the "welcomers" knows how to approach. Or the guy sitting in the back pew, twisting and turning; the guy no one dares to engage for fear of what he might be thinking. He is the avoidable one, the one who we secretly know just doesn't fit in, the one that slips in, takes a look around, and then (with a collective sigh of relief) is never seen again.
Really, for all the words we use in seminary to talk about the Christian faith, for all the words I have put down on paper this semester in an attempt to explain things like God's nature, you would think I actually know what I'm talking about. But, I don't, really. Add up all the words that will be used this Sunday, in every sermon across America, to speak of God. Adjectives, verbs, pronouns, etc., all used in such away as to suggest we have actually pinned God down. Are any of these words capable of hitting the mark for which they are intended? Not even close. And why not? Because, these are words used to describe an object, and God cannot be spoken of in this way. God is no object. God does not enter into the world as an object that can be spoken about. So then, why do we speak of God as though he can be spoken of. Could it be that we have created God, the object, in much the same way that the Israelites created the golden calf? We can collect all the jewelry we want, melt it down, have the best artisans shape it in to a thing of beauty, but at the end of the day, it's just a hunk of melted jewelry shaped as a golden calf. I imagine Moses saying, "Are you kidding me?" "Do you know where I've been for the last forty days?" "You're going to reduce what I have experienced to this pitiful object?" No wonder Moses got so pissed. The object pales in comparison to anything Moses might have experienced. So, why even try to objectify God when any attempt will only fall pitifully short. Perhaps that's why God warns against making and worshiping idols. Every attempt to speak of God in Hebrew scripture, ends with the use of objectified language: fire, smoke, burning bushes, clouds, lightening, thunder claps. It all falls short. Then, what language can I possibly use to say anything that is absolutely true of God? Have all my perfect words this semester been for not? Perhaps we need to consider Pete Rollins' advice in How (Not) to Speak of God. Rollins argues that rather than entering the world as an object, "God is that which changes how I interact with all objects." "You don't experience birth, birth is what allows you to experience. I don't experience life, it is life that allows me to experience. I don't see the light in this room, it is the light that allows me to see." If God is not to be pinned down, then perhaps it is better (not) to speak of God at all. Yet, Rollins does. And how does Rollins (not) speak of God. He uses the analogy of a baby being held by its mother. "The baby does not understand the mother but rather experiences being known by the mother." For all the revelation that we have turned into dogma concerning God and God's nature, it has only served to objectify God. To the infant, its mother is no object to be described, but only a mystery to be experienced in the "knowing" of being held. "We are like an infant in the arms of God, unable to grasp but being transformed by the grasp." As this first year of seminary comes to a close, I feel the exhaustion of having wrestled, like Israel, with God. I have struggled for words, upon words, upon words, in an attempt to clarify myself. But, have I put the right words together, have I really come any closer to understanding? Or, have I come up short, like grasping for straw? Perhaps, like a tiny infant, through all the grasping, through all the classroom dialogue, and through all the countless words, I remain in awe, with nothing more than the overwhelming knowledge that I am being held. And, somehow, I am strangely transformed.
The bible begins with an ending. God’s commandment, “Let there be light,” brings an end to the darkness of chaos. The bible ends with a beginning. Jesus’s promise, “Surely I am coming soon,” provides an ever-beginning offer of hope for all time. Thus, my Credo begins with the hope that exists in the end; for I know what the end is, I have seen it. By beginning with the end, I recognize that as eschatology is concerned with “last things,” there is offered a message of hope and liberation for the future of new beginnings. As James Cone puts it, “to speak of eschatology is to move in the direction of the future.”
However, the future I speak of, that which Cone was referring to, is a future, now. As Jesus told us to pray, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” the future is already present, at every moment, in every era, and for every generation that is confronted with this gospel. We are not called to wait for the end, but to live into it. Neither are we to put off the future, but are to confront it in our daily living. To put off the future is to deny our finitude. Cone suggests that it is easy for the dominant race to put off God’s future; they have no need for it. They are able to put it off as some distant place in the great by and by. They put God’s future off by way of intellectualizing it, diminishing its importance, or holding it at arms-length by way of hermeneutical gymnastics. God’s future is of little importance to those who are in power. They have the means to distract themselves from it. In this way, the privileged are able to justify their avoidance of the oppressed in the here and now. For to look into the eyes of the suffering is to remind them of their own finitude, to remind them that the death bell tolls next for them. Thus, for the privileged, Jesus’ prayer is not a call to action in this earthly life, it is not even a message of present liberation. Such things are inconveniences to their present way of life.
For those suffering and oppressed, this theology provides little to no hope. What the suffering and oppressed have is a keen sense of their own finitude. Something that most privileged do not have. Those who face death every day, suffering from addiction, mental illness, poverty, disease, unemployment, and other such maladies, do not have the luxury of distracting themselves from this pain, or from worrying over the future of their children. To these, a future hope set beyond death is of little value. “What good are golden crowns, slippers, white robes, or even eternal life, if it means that we have to turn our backs on the pain and suffering of our own children?” For those who suffer, the end is always present, and the promise of Jesus’ coming is always an immediate expectation. “Who are they who long for the coming of the Lord, and for what purpose? They who wait upon the Lord are they who are weak; they are the poor, the helpless, the downtrodden.” In the confidence of their own strength, the powerful have no need for God’s future. The suffering, however, long for it.
Here, Jesus’ promise, “Surely I am coming soon,” is an ever-beginning, always becoming, and present offer of hope. Perhaps it is better interpreted, “Hang on, I’ll be right there.” As Cone points out by highlighting the importance of “hope theology,” reality is not fixed. As he quotes “Hope theologian” Ernst Bloch, “’Things can be otherwise.’ That means: things can also become otherwise: in the direction of evil, which must be avoided, or in the direction of good, which would have to be promoted.” This suggests an eschatology that is both active and dynamic, where the work of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is not finished, but just beginning! This is God’s future, now, where the hope of liberation and transformation are related to the present existence of those who suffer.
As Cone states, “As long as we look at the resurrection of Christ and the expected “end,” we cannot reconcile ourselves to the things of the present that contradict his presence.” To be aware of our own finitude, to look into the eyes of the suffering, to understand our responsibility in all of this, is for Christians to stand and fight in the present, for the liberation and transformation of all people. Jesus, as the eschatological, ever-beginning, hope of the present, calls us to act in every moment for the good of all people, knowing that reality is not fixed.
 Genesis 1:3, The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NRSV)
 Revelations 22:20, The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NRSV)
 James Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2010), 144.
 Matthew 6:10, The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NRSV)
 James Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2010), 144-145.
 James Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2010), 146.
 James Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2010), 147.
 James Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2010), 147.
 James Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2010), 149.
There are so many wonderful reasons why we love our mother’s on this day. Let me throw my hat in the ring and give one more: Mom, thank you for ‘remaining.’ To remain, through it all, to out-last and out-love all the others is the second most precious act, after giving birth. I think of Mary, mother of Jesus, for all that has been made of her saintliness, I think the most precious of all her acts was her steadfast commitment to remain with her son. As far as we know from scripture, Mary did not scoff or scorn her son. When it seemed that the whole empire thought him crazy, Mary remained. When Jesus himself questioned, “Who is my mother,” she remained. And, when all had left, and there her son hung from a tree, alone; Mary remained.
I’m no Jesus, but have had my fair share of difficulties. My first trip to the pokey, who did I call? Waking up in rehab, whose face did I see? When the clouds of suicide closed in, whose hand reached out? When I turned my back, who stood standing? When I graduated from college, who sat in the front row? When I walked down the aisle, who beamed radiantly? When I preached my first sermon, who listened most intently? Through all things, rough and smooth, joyous and sorrowful, who remained?
Mom, I love you.
I used to be a Pentecostal. I'm sorry, but it got into my bones, and must confess, still remains in the marrow. I have since out grown the theology, however, something of it still makes sense. I used to tune in for Bishop Carlton Pearson's preaching at his Higher Dimensions Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He has long since left that place by way of a re-awakening. He was eventually excommunicated from the Pentecostal church and branded a heretic for his new message of "inclusion." I guess the same could be said of me as well; I too left as a heretic. Yet, something of it remains and makes sense. After reviewing some of Bishop Pearson's old footage for a recent class project, it suddenly struck me. Bishop Pearson used to say, "We are an oppressed people," and then would break out in song and dance before delivering his message of deliverance. In fact, the notion of "deliverance" is perhaps one of the most fundamental ideas in the Pentecostal movement. To be oppressed, necessitates deliverance. If you have ever experienced a Pentecostal service, then you have probably experienced the spirit of deliverance. For the one who is liberated, there is nothing more important than to give "glory to God. This comes by way of both testimony and dance. To be delivered, and then in turn be overcome by the "Holy Ghost," in a Pentecostal way, is something like nothing else in all of Christianity.
This is what lingers in the marrow. My way to the Christian faith was through the charismatic faith of my Great Grandma who raised me on Rex Humbard and the Four Square Gospel. Later in life, after ending up in a Prodigal son situation and wanting everything to end, I stepped off the curb into oncoming traffic. From this desperate attempt, I was liberated by way of a radical conversion experience. I was delivered. So, what else is a Prodigal son to do, but dance. The Pentecostal rhythm is one of deliverance, and although I have outgrown the theology (It seems Bishop Pearson has as well), the dance of deliverance still remains. May we not forget to dance, to shout, to remember that once having been lost, we are now delivered.
In considering my ecclesiology, I am both impressed and confused by Bruce Epperly’s presentation of process theology and the role of the church. Is it possible to use language that, at once, is both singularly specific, yet exudes universal appeal? As Epperly presents it, process ecclesiology is very clear on two things: one, the vocation of the church, and two, the existence of God's salvation outside the church. “While the church is called to be the center of creative transformation, God’s vision of transformation extends far beyond the walls of the church to embrace and inspire the spiritual and ritualistic practices of other religious traditions, new spiritual movements, and the lives of seekers, agnostics, and atheists. The church cannot claim to be the only medium of divine revelation. If divine inspiration is omnipresent, there are no God-free zones in a process world.” The very language that Epperly uses to describe “God’s vision,” is language that is only understood in the context of the "Christian" church. “The church’s vocation” described in terms of the church being “the living and evolving body of Christ,” is Christian specific, applicable only to Christian churches. An appeal to Jesus, is an appeal to a particular salvation for a particular people. If “God’s aim at beauty, truth, and wholeness” is fulfilled in many ways for many people, then it makes no sense to appeal to the universal by using language that is deeply Christian specific. Epperly's use of such language suggests a very WASPy universalism, which is not very universal at all. Yet, Epperly suggests that, “In a God-saturated world, the church’s vocation is not to be sole possessor of truth, but to invite people to experience God’s vision for their lives and communities. The church, from the vantage point of process theology, is profoundly relational, embrac!ing the wider culture, emerging technologies, multiple media and intelligences, and insights of new spiritual movements as well as traditional faiths, in light of God’s vision of shalom, beauty, and justice.” I get it, and I agree, that the future is all about jettisoning dogmas based on the notion of absolute truths. However, Epperly's appeal to “God's vision" as a universal aim, presents a huge contradiction. It reeks of Western Christian triumphalism. If we are going to give full nod to the church as being profoundly relational, embracing a multitude of intelligences, insights, and movements, then a language devoid of Christian bias must be used when appealing to a universal truth beyond the walls of the church. Rather, let us be grounded in Christianity from the get go. Let us be comfortable with our location in the "Christian" church where language of God and Christ are familiar. Let us understand the specific importance of our Christian identity, and be upfront about it, before venturing outside the walls of the church in pursuit of the universal. Our Christian language is not broad enough to speak of universals. Let Christians be comfortable with the language that works for Christians, but let it remain within the walls of the Christian church.
Based on my reading of Epperly, I have attempted here to construct my own ecclesiology:
The Christian Church understands that God’s salvation – the creative, transformative, dynamic aim towards peace, beauty, justice, healing and wholeness for both the individual and community – can occur outside of the Christian context. The Christian Church rejects the notion that it is the sole possessor of truth, nor does it accept that it is the only medium of divine revelation. Thus, the Christian Church remains radically open to the ever-emerging future, standing in relationship with all people of all faiths and all philosophies, embracing the wider culture and its varied intelligences, knowing that humanity shares the same journey and collective future. Rather than a synthesis of shared faith, the Christian Church recognizes that the salvific message particular to the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth is important to itself, but is only one part of a larger whole, spoken of in a multitude of faiths, practices, beliefs, and traditions both religious and non-religious. The call and vocation of the Christian Church, then, is specific to being the living and ever-evolving body of Christ, offering an invitation to all humanity to awaken to the wider vision of God’s Aim, and to partake in the co-creative work of God’s universal transformative hope. As such, the Church offers this invitation with genuine humility, recognizing the importance of collective engagement and respect, and so, remains radically ecumenical, interreligious, dialogic, and hospitable.
Wow, I sound like a Unitarian Universalist!
 Epperly, Bruce G., Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed (New York: T&T Clark, 2011) P.122
 Epperly, Bruce G., Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed (New York: T&T Clark, 2011) P.123
We set out on Good Friday, not exactly sure what the day would bring. I wonder if Jesus awoke that ancient morning and thought to himself, "Is today the day?" Did Reverend King emerge from his Lorraine Motel room that crisp April morning expecting to walk into the cross hairs of his assassin? We set out Good Friday morning, making our way first by train, and then by foot, on a walk through downtown Los Angeles. Passing from the Financial District, to the Fashion District, past polished sidewalks swept clean of the riff-raff. On, down 6th Street. Somewhere around noon we crossed an invisible, yet palpable line that separates the living from the dead. The stench of the dying hit like a wall, mixed with urine, vomit, booze, body odor, shit, dirt, and humiliation; mixed like a toxic barrier. No soul in their right mind should pass this way, for once crossing over, there are very few options for turning back.
Perhaps, there is a strange safety, a false sense of security, for those who live on skid row. One child asks, "why aren't there any hobos up in the Financial District?" A good question on this Good Friday. Yes, why are "the hobos" all down here? These, however, are not hobos, for at least a hobo has access to the open highway, free to roam the country at will. These are the dead, like Lazarus, locked in a tomb of no hope? They are the crucified of skid row. They have been dealt the death blow. They loiter, like the unseemly, unkempt prophets who hung around the first-century temple entrance, reminding the pious religious of their sins. They are an offense, an eye sore. These crucified are corralled outside the city walls. These lepers, the ones Jesus called to himself, who he touched; these are a social nuisance, a bother, a plague. So, they are handled, disappeared, exterminated.
Jesus, by way of association, would cross a line from which he could never turn back. Jesus left the temple, crossed the road, and met the leper at their place of shame. Jesus, left behind the weeping sisters and entered the tomb where Lazarus lay cold. Jesus, having supped with his closest friends, left the safety of that upper room and entered into the Garden of no return. Like this, we too left behind the city of the living and crossed over into the tomb of the dead. We, without fully understanding, crossed the point of no turning back, into this place of shame for those who have been crucified by way of modern crosses; civil codes, mandates, police enforcement, injunctions, forceful removal, citations, threats, and all other means of systemic murder. Like Jesus' own crucifixion, these nameless of skid row, and their offense, have been dealt with and made to disappear.
By choosing to embark on our Good Friday walk, could we have known the extent of our decision? Were we choosing sides? Perhaps, by crossing at 6th and Gladys and venturing into the heart of skid row, we were saying yes to death by crucifixion. Perhaps, we too were choosing to walk into the cross hairs of Gethsemane, choosing to enter the tomb of Lazarus, to sit with him in all his filth, decay, and shame... Perhaps, it is necessary for one to challenge the unexpected, to enter the tomb, and face the point of no return in order to experience any future resurrection.
I heard that the great modern "emergence" theologian, Phyllis Tickle, was making her farewell public appearance and I thought, "can't miss this." She was billed to do a talk and book signing at Fuller Theological Seminary, so I ventured from the haven of Process at CST to the heart of conservative evangelical theology. Little did I know that I would be happening upon an Azusa Street Holy Ghost Emergence Revival with bad-ass preaching, high theology, and even a hipster after party for Holy Rollers with home brewed hops. The only thing missing was the altar call. Phyllis began by identifying the exciting time we are living in as an "upheaval" that happens every five hundred years or so in Western history (if you're keeping track, we are three years away from the 500 year anniversary of the Reformation...I smell a book being written somewhere). It's time for the Church to drop back and take account of where it's at, where it's going, and how it may need to change in order to get there. "What we are doing today will establish the church for the next 500 years." Wow! No pressure. Most of the talk for the evening was centered around her latest book, The Age of the Spirit." This age suggests a resurgence of interest in the Holy Spirit. In modern context, Tickle raises the example of Azusa street which gave birth to the Pentecostal movement, presently one of the fastest spreading denominations in the world. I am not ashamed to admit that I am a product of this movement, but I also like to think that I out grew its theology some time ago. However, I have not out grown its fervor, zeal, and enthusiasm for spiritual expressiveness. The Age of the Spirit suggests the next radical upheaval characterized by the "movement" of the Holy Spirit (as in that third, sometimes confusing part, of the Trinity) and its role in shaping theology, ecclesiology, and spiritual practice. It's "God asking the world to come out and dance."
Moderator for the evening's discussion was Claremont Graduate School's own Podcast theologian, Tripp Fuller and Fuller Seminary's own poster boy for the New Hip Christianity, Tony Jones (see Solomon's Porch in Minneapolis). It was Tripp who raised the question of hermeneutical authority and where it lies in this Age of the Spirit. In Homebrewed Christianity fashion (see his podcast website), Tripp pointed out, "There can be some crazy ass shit that is put on the holy spirit." I'm glad he asked that question because, to tell the truth, I was beginning to squirm in my seat with all the Holy Ghost talk going on. I mean, I know what it's like to be knee deep in the Spirit, and I have seen some crazy ass shit go down in its name. Phyllis suggests that authority is up in the air for now, just as it was 500 years ago during the reformation. Characteristics of this age may suggest a decentralized church focused on individual spirituality within communal settings. Hierarchy and patriarchy will be dismantled and the anthropomorphization of God will be transcended. Hmm, cool.
The evening continued across the street on the third floor of the First Congregational United Church of Christ Pasadena where they have developed an "emergent" style gathering space called Aspire (look it up, Sunday's at 1pm). Ten bucks at the door got you your own craft beer glass and access to several kegs of home brew, one of which was crafted in Phyllis' honor; The 500 Year Rummage Ale. A much different type of Spirit flowing and definitely not your grandma's church. This was a Christian Hipster's paradise, with comfy couches replacing hardwood pews, throw rugs, candles (lots of candles), beards, cuffed bluejeans, and energetic, alcohol-infused conversation! The room was abuzz, literally! Over the din came the sound of new church music, Marley's One Love, Lou Reed's Take a Walk on the Wild Side. Nice. Perhaps this is what the Age of the Holy Spirit looks and feels like. So, in the iconic words of Marley, "What about the One Heart? Let's get together and feel alright, give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right."
In light of my own concept of God’s nature, I find it remarkable how little I understand the “classical” concept of the nature of God. From reading Peter Hodgson's chapter on God in Readings From Christian Theology and Stanley Grenz's, Theology for the Community of God, I see glimpses of the God I was raised with, even the God I still believe in. However, truthfully, I have never been deliberate in tying my understanding to any existing theology, let alone construct a systematic framework. Presented in both Hodgson and Grenz are traditional concepts of God that, over the years, I have held in varying ways, at times very tightly. God, the All Mighty, the Eternal, the Unchangeable, the Absolute. I seem to have outgrown most of these understandings, but am not quite sure how and why. One thing I do know: I never want to hold God this tightly again. My sense from these readings is just how loosely I hold God now. It seems that I have lost the ability to speak of God in any absolute way, that I don’t even want to attempt to speak of him in this way. I would rather remain silent.
This ancient pursuit, chronicled by Hodgson (in the work of Gregory of Nyssa, Anselm of Canterbury, Thomas Aquinas, and even in some sense, the modern theologians covered), to clearly decipher revelation and then shape it into a well-designed and sound doctrine, just does not resonate with me anymore. It seems to make more sence that the concept and nature of God is forever concealed from us, a veil in which human language cannot penetrate. But yet, I am somehow transformed by the experience of that which I cannot understand. Irish theologian Peter Rollins suggests that, “We are like an infant in the arms of God, unable to grasp but being transformed by the grasp.” Thus, it is understandable that as I follow along the continuum put forth by Hodgson, I grow more comfortable the closer he moves to Paul Tillich. In fact, Rollin’s notion of God being “known as unknown” seems to echo Tillich’s “God above God…present, although hidden, in every divine-human encounter.”
Then, what can we know of God? Very little beyond our own subjective experience, I would say. What remained, though, is my awareness that I possess an idea of God’s presence and that at times I am overwhelmed by experience I believe emanates from this presence. I am reminded of St. Aquinas’ own experience in prayer where he emerged proclaiming, “All that I have written is but straw.” He had written a lot, suggesting that his experience of reason and revelation left him with definite knowledge of the Divine. Thus, in the end, Aquinas is remembered for his Summa Theologica, not his mystical experience. Such intangible experience may not present “trusted ground” on which to build a theology, but yet it left Aquinas speechless, causing all of his certainties to pale in comparison.
Then, what can we say of God? I find liberation in how German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg avoids speaking of God as an existing being among other beings. He suggests that to speak of God in traditional language (omnipotent, omniscient) “would make freedom impossible.” Instead, Pannenberg shifts the focus from God as a past or present being, to placing the “location” of God in the future. “For what belongs to the future is not yet existent and yet it already determines present experience.” Perhaps this suggests God as always becoming, yet existing as hope in the present. If there is no way to speak of God as a being existing from past to present, then perhaps one can only speak of God in terms of the future. I like this; the transcendent God of the future who is always only becoming. As Grenz suggests, “God in front of us, not behind or above us.” With God in front of me, there lies the hope of coming to a future understanding; where my present inability to speak may be overcome with the possibility of words.
 Rollins, Peter, How (Not) to Speak of God, Paraclete Press, Brewster, Mass., 2006,p.17
 Rollins, Peter, How (Not) to Speak of God, Paraclete Press, Brewster, Mass., 2006,p.17
 Hodgson, p.84
 Grenz, p. 79
 Grenz, p.80
I am excited. This past weekend I heard God referred to as "the God of the ditches, the God who resides in the sorrowfulness, brokenness, and messiness of life." To me, that is refreshing and absolutely authentic. There is deep hope that resides in this understanding. Throughout scripture, we are reminded of the God of the mountaintops, there with Moses as he receives the Torah, there with Jesus as he experiences the transfiguration. Honestly, I am more interested in the God of the ditches.
For a large part of my life I lived in the ditches; the valleys where the shadow of death was cast across every square inch of terrain. My struggle to drag my way out of these valleys was always futile. I could see the mountaintops residing in the distance, but had no idea how to make my way there. "If only," was my mantra. Like some Tolkien narrative, God must reside there in the mountaintops, but I was stuck, like Bilbo Baggins, there in the valleys. Faced with the daunting task of returning to God by way of a treacherous and a damn-near impossible journey, the valleys held little hope for me. There was a point, while stumbling over the endless obstacles of the valley floor, that I cried out to God, "Lord help me make my way back to you." Surely, God could not reside in such brokenness.
Perhaps the Prodigal son felt this same way. There in the ditches, filled with slop, the Prodigal son settled on eating with the pigs. Imagine the sensory experience of this. Finding yourself face down in a ditch eating with pigs. I have been there, and believe me, I don't know how much lower you can get than that. Now, the parable is not absolutely clear on how the son "came to himself," but something spoke to him there in the ditch. Perhaps it was the owner who had hired him to tend to the pigs, perhaps it was a talking pig or the telepathic cry of his father waiting at home. Perhaps, it was the still small voice of God, there in the ditches, that assured him of hope, that all was not lost, that there were brighter days ahead, that their were infinite possibilities. However it came to him, it came to him there in the ditch.
The hope-filled message here is that this Prodigal son's transformation happened knee-deep in a ditch. And isn't that where God meets us, right where we are at? People, God is not waiting for your return in some warm home, on some far away mountaintop. God is there, in the shadows, in the cold, in the hunger, in the broken, sorrowful, messy places of our lives. Trust this and see.
"Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me"