Sea Raven’s Year of Mark commentary on Year B of the Revised Common Lectionary lays out a path for a counter-cultural church that challenges the assumptions of Empire as usual. In contrast to conventional understandings of some of the most beloved Christian texts, Sea Raven reminds us that if we pay attention to Jesus’s original message we can change the paradigm in which we live from violence to non-violence, from exclusion to inclusion. We can choose active resistance to the normal course of civilizations and usher in a world where distributive justice-compassion holds sway. Her interpretations of ancient scripture are grounded in the best of Biblical scholarship, and bring foundational stories from both the Old and New Testaments into contemporary relevance. This three-volume series, Theology from Exile, is a valuable resource for Sunday morning worship, and serious Bible study.
–Rev. Robin R. Meyers, Ph.D, Senior Minister,
Mayflower Congregational UCC Church, Oklahoma City
–Distinguished Professor of Social Justice, Philosophy Department, Oklahoma City University
The Year of Mark, Volume III of Sea Raven’s series of commentaries on the Revised Common Lectionary, continues her challenge to the church to bring traditional scripture into the 21st century. This volume is especially important to an evolving Christianity because of the emphasis on the Gospel of John in lectionary Year B. This gospel, the most beloved, is also the most misunderstood. Amazingly, Sea Raven manages to relate the second century mysticism of John’s gospel to the 13.8 billion year Big History of everyone and everything in a way that honors the mystic in each of us without violating the intellectual integrity of evidential revelation. The series is a valuable resource for not only pro-science Christians who realize that it’s simply impossible to worship God without honoring Nature; it is also a significant contribution to the ongoing dialogue among all spiritual traditions looking to interpret factual faith and a modern cosmology in inspiring, soul-nourishing ways.
–Rev. Michael Dowd, author of Thank God for Evolution,
a book endorsed by 6 Nobel Prize-winning scientists and dozens of religious leaders…
The Rev. Dr. J. Carl Gregg, Minister
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Frederick (Maryland)
In the context of the twenty-first century American Empire, Sea Raven helps us respond to the call to read the Bible through a lens of nonviolence and peace with justice. This lectionary commentary will empower your preaching with the insights of postmodern biblical scholarship, geared toward the liberation of ourselves, our society, and our world.
* * *
William H. O’Brien, M.A., M.Div., Director
The Nathaniel Center for Spiritual Growth
Shepherdstown, West Virginia
Sea Raven displays the same irreverent approach to the religious establishment as Jesus Himself in His day. I lead a weekly guided imagery group based on Ignatian Contemplation. We enter a gospel story through the imagination. Often it is congenial for me to explore the passage beforehand in Theology from Exile to clear up any theological mysteries before we begin. I always feel rewarded for my efforts. Volume III: The Year of Mark continues the trend!
Since 1985 with the founding of the Jesus Seminar, the field of research on early Christian origins and the development of the New Testament must be described as “volatile.” With this third volume of commentaries the Westar Institute scholars version of New Testament translations of the gospels is more useful to the emerging theology than the NRSV. Quotations therefore may be assumed to be from “The Complete Gospels”(1) unless otherwise noted.
As an example of the transformation in the expected glacial progress of biblical scholarship, Marcus Borg agrees with the consensus that dates John’s gospel in the 90s; he also agrees with a theory gaining acceptance that John predates Luke, which is now thought to date from early second century.(2) The ground seemed to be shifting even more at the Westar Institute’s 2013 Fall meeting. The presentation of the report on the Acts Seminar included the suggestion by Joseph B. Tyson(3) that while scholars agree that the same person likely wrote both the gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, Acts may have been written before the gospel. Even more dizzying for Christian tradition, the so-called “proto-Luke” known to and used by Marcion did not include Luke’s beloved birth stories and seems to end with the sharing of bread and fish on the road to Emmaus.(4) Faith as belief in the historical veracity of the accepted orthodox Christian understanding of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus appears more and more to depend on political and cultural shifting sands. Faith as trust in the value of Jesus’s message to sustainable human life on Planet Earth stands on the rock of human experience with distributive justice-compassion – whether of the Buddha, the Christ, or simple, evolutionary, human empathy.…
by Fred Plumer, President Progressive Christianity.org
I must admit for twenty three years in the pulpit, I was not a great fan of Lectionary commentaries. The commentaries always seemed too contrived, were overly concerned with nuance and often seemed dated in the scholarship. And now as someone who has spent nearly a decade in the pews in possibly a hundred churches, I have grown weary of pastors struggling to create a sermon out of the lectionary selections, often trying to force two or three of the selections into something meaningful. So when I agreed to do a review for Sea Raven’s second year set of commentaries, I was hesitant. However, I was delighted to discover that Sea Raven has created something of great value here. Drawing on some of the best and latest scholarship available, she brings new life to words and texts that have lost their meaning and their intention for far too many people, including those leading churches. She accomplishes this with clear and even simple language and a clarity that I find rare with scholars.
As in her first commentary, The Year of Luke, Sea Raven frames her commentaries by responding to four questions: 1) What is the nature of God? Violent or nonviolent? 2) What is the nature of Jesus’s message? Inclusive or exclusive? 3) What is faith? Literal belief, or commitment to the great work of justice-compassion? 4) What is deliverance? Salvation from hell, or liberation from injustice?…
Theology from Exile: Commentary on the Revised Common Lectionary for an Emerging Christianity: Volume I The Year of Luke (published January 2013); Volume II The Year of Matthew (published September 2013); Volume III The Year of Mark (to be published October 2014)
This series is for “believers in exile,” who are drawn to the social justice mandate found in Jesus’s teachings, but no longer find meaning in orthodox interpretations of Old and New Testament scripture. In addition to weekly commentaries are reimagined rituals of Holy Communion, and a Bible study for Holy Week on the meaning of kenosis. The project is grounded in the biblical scholarship of Karen Armstrong, Marcus J. Borg, John Dominic Crossan, and the Jesus Seminar, as well as the transforming work of Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox, whose theology of Creation Spirituality has reclaimed Catholic mysticism for postmodern cosmology.
The Year of Luke is the first in a series of commentaries on biblical scripture found in the three-year cycle of Christian liturgical readings of the Revised Common Lectionary. Instead of interpreting these readings as a precursor of messianic salvation from Hell, culminating in the exclusive Body of Christ and the imperial violence of the Church Triumphant, postmodern exiles from the premodern orthodoxy of the Christian church can begin to realize the radicality in Jesus’s original message, and join the struggle to find the courage to live it out in Covenant, non-violence, justice-compassion, and the deep peace that passes all understanding.
Here is what Arthur J. Dewey, New Testament scholar and specialist on the historical Jesus, says about The Year of Luke:
Now your book. Frankly, I have spent the last few nights enjoying it. It is not a mere commentary. It is really a genuine conversation – with the voices of the tradition and the modern tongues. All of which occur with a wondrous eye to an uncertain future. You do not do the usual things in a commentary; instead you often go for the heart of the matter (and the occasional pun). You challenge the reader to take seriously the multi-sided conversation around a text or three.
I appreciate your use of recent critical works (especially the Jesus Seminar entries and the work of Crossan, as well as the Authentic Letters of Paul, and even my commentary). You get a lot out of them. Your use of “the kenotic” theme is well done. I also like very much that you see that some texts can correct or at least unbalance others, especially when a text from the Hebrew Scriptures liberates a NT text. Good work!
I do wish many pastors and preachers would sit down with your words and wisdom.…
The Year of Luke is the first in a series of commentaries on biblical scripture found in the three-year cycle of Christian liturgical readings of the Revised Common Lectionary. Instead of interpreting these readings as a precursor of messianic salvation from Hell, culminating in the exclusive Body of Christ and the imperial violence of the Church Triumphant, postmodern exiles from the premodern orthodoxy of the Christian church can begin to realize the radicality in Jesus’ original message, and join the struggle to find the courage to live it out in Covenant, non-violence, justice-compassion, and the deep peace that passes all understanding.
The project is grounded in the postmodern biblical scholarship of Karen Armstrong, Marcus J. Borg, John Dominic Crossan, and the Jesus Seminar, as well as the transforming work of Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox, whose theology of Creation Spirituality has reclaimed Catholic mysticism for post-modern cosmology. Appendix One contains reimagined rituals of Holy Communion that reflect an invitation to commit to the ongoing salvation work of non-violent, distributive, justice-compassion.Appendix Two is a Bible study for Holy Week that explores in depth the meaning of kenosis.
The Year of Luke — now available on Kindle.
In the spirit of Lloyd Geering, Gaia Rising commentary now shifts to how progressive Christians can join the shift from gods to God to Gaia. There will be plenty of Bible study – maybe even more commentary on the Revised Common Lectionary. But the question for mystics and rationalists alike is, what is Secular Spirit.…
Romans 13:11-14, 14:17; Mark 13; Luke 18-19
In the Northern Hemisphere of Planet Earth, now is the time of the first harvest. In the old European Celtic Wheel of the Year, the bread for the festival Communion Mass (Lammas, August 1) was made from the first grains – barley, wheat, rye. This year, 2012, the great “bread basket of the world” – midwestern United States – has been in drought for months. The winter wheat crop was good. But the summer corn and soybean crops are gone.
Economic uncertainty is a symptom; the disease is planet-wide: ecological breakdown, climate change, “global warming.” Denying the facts of climate change has been a priority for right-wing business and Christian fundamentalist leaders. Unlimited sums of money have been poured into research that surely would destroy the credibility of left-wing “socialists” determined to destroy the “freedom” of the people to make all the money they want to make; until Richard Muller, professor of physics of UC Berkeley took his “no strings attached half-million bucks” from the Koch Brothers and discovered the scientists were right – not only about climate change, but the fact that humans are the cause. What really fries the right is that Prof. Muller was a climate change skeptic.
One of the prophets of our time is the Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox. Fox is the founder of a theology called Creation Spirituality, which has at its core the revolutionary conviction that the Universe and everything in it is an original blessing, not an original sin. At a recent conference sponsored by Evolve Chesapeake (a Creation Spirituality community), Fox discussed the necessity for “awakening imagination for transformation” – a mouthful of words that boils down to putting human creativity to work to solve the problem. After all, as Professor Muller says, human creativity got us into this ecological mess and human creativity can get us out of it.
Fox suggests that super-capitalism – the hegemony of the very wealthy – runs on the suppression of our own creativity – i.e., wilful ignorance. Wilful ignorance prompted Marie Antoinette to wonder why – if they don’t have bread– the people can’t eat cake instead? Now as then, the economic precariousness of the working classes has not yet percolated up through the layers of protective investments to affect the well-being of the wealthy. In a New York Times Op ed, “Corn for Food, Not Fuel,” Colin A. Carter and Henry I. Miller (July 30, 2012) write:
By suspending renewable-fuel standards that were unwise from the start, the Environmental Protection Agency could divert vast amounts of corn from inefficient ethanol production back into the food chain, where market forces and common sense dictate it should go. The drought has now parched about 60 percent of the contiguous 48 states. As a result, global food prices are rising steeply. Corn futures prices on the Chicago exchange have risen about 60 percent since mid-June, hitting record levels, and other grains such as wheat and soybeans are also sharply higher. Livestock and dairy product prices will inevitably follow. . . . The price of corn is a critical variable in the world food equation, and food markets are on edge because American corn supplies are plummeting. The combination of the drought and American ethanol policy will lead in many parts of the world to widespread inflation, more hunger, less food security, slower economic growth and political instability, especially in poor countries.
“Who cares?” says the ghost of the clueless Marie Antoinette. But inevitably, the shortage of cake (never mind the absence of bread) will become apparent, even to those who thought that the higher the price the greater the profit for them.
The writer of the Gospel of Luke reports a parable told by Jesus that has stumped the faithful for centuries. But the meaning is perhaps not so mysterious, despite the ending – which may or may not be an addition supplied by Luke. At the end of the parable of the money in trust, in which a landowner returns to find that one of his slaves had been too afraid of the master’s ruthlessness to risk investing the money entrusted to him, the boss says “I’m telling you, to everyone who has, more will be given and from those who don’t have, even what they do have will be taken away.” He then rewards his corporate allies ten-fold, and orders the execution of the members of the board who opposed his plan to merge with another company ( Luke 19:12-27). Putting the parable in the current context, suppose your CEO, a known crook whom everyone hates, gives you a million dollars to invest in corn futures and ethanol production. The only way to maintain your livelihood may be to bury the money in the atrium garden. You won’t get a raise – your colleagues who play the game will get their reward – but you will at least save your life. Or, as in the parable of the Shrewd Manager, if your boss is threatening to fire you because the profit margin isn’t satisfying the shareholders, make side-bets that pay off the creditors and save the business (Luke 16:1-8).
Jesus’ parables tell us how use our creativity to subvert the putative rulers of Earth. Jesus got into trouble for suggesting that the way to assure that all of the people have food to eat is to share whatever they have. And don’t assume that your traditional enemy has no soul. The very powers that are supposed to have your best interest at heart will pass you by on the other side of the road while you die in the ditch (“The Good Samaritan” Luke 10:30-35). To love your enemies is to have no enemies.
The much-misunderstood and dismissed Apostle Paul wrote in the first century:
I don’t have to tell you that we are living in the most decisive moment in human history. The hour has already passed for you to be roused from your sleep, because the time of ultimate fulfillment is nearer now than when we first put our unconditional confidence and trust in God. The night is almost gone, the day is almost here. Let us rid ourselves of the preoccupations of the darkness and clothe ourselves with the armor of light. Let us conduct ourselves in ways befitting those who live in the full light of day, not in gluttony and drunkenness, now in promiscuous sexual behavior nor in uninhibited self-indulgence, not in contentiousness and envy. But adopt the manner of life of our lord, Jesus, God’s Anointed, and make no concession to the lifestyle of this age and its pursuit of self-gratification. . . . For the empire of God is not about food and drink, but it is about the integrity and peace and joy that comes through God’s presence and power among us. Romans 13:11-14, 14:17. The Authentic Letters of Paul (Polebridge Press, 2010).
The first step is to acknowledge the depth of the sin, but what does this mean in a secular world? Paul is not talking about petty trespass, like making love before marriage, or eating too much at a party. Paul is not suggesting that the answer is easy piety – going to church, giving money to charity, volunteering at the soup kitchen. When Paul talks about making no concession to the lifestyle of this age, he’s not implying the internet is evil, or technology is de-humanizing, or that abortion, divorce, and contraception will send you to hell. That’s the easy stuff. What’s not so easy is the integrity that comes through the presence and power of God.
The presence and power of God is radical fairness – distributive justice-compassion. The only way to achieve that is through the radical abandonment of self-interest. In Paul’s words, “no concession to the lifestyle of this age and its pursuit of self-gratification.” This is the “inner work” that Matthew Fox calls the via negativa. To do this inner work means acknowledging and owning the conditions that lead to fear for survival, greed, war, and the destruction of the Planet. That “inner work” results in a transformation of attitude that then leads to creative ways to act with distributive justice-compassion – to a share world instead of a greed world.
In a share world, when corn is lost to drought, what is saved is not dedicated to conversion into fuel, but used for food. In a share world, mountaintops are not destroyed to save the expense of deep-mining for coal. In a share world, land and water are not destroyed for short-term economic gain. Paul claims that Jesus “made no concession to the lifestyle of this age and its pursuit of self-gratification.” Indeed, Jesus got into major trouble for suggesting that while Cesar may have thought he was master of the universe, he in fact owned nothing but the coin with his name on it. “God” owns the earth and everything in it.
Apocalypticism is on the rise, whether among religious fundamentalists or atheists. For the religious – especially Christian fundamentalists – the end times have never seemed more imminent. Even though the “little apocalypse” in the Gospel of Mark is clearly about the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 66-70, the language has lent itself to every political, social, economic, and ecological disaster of the past two millennia of the common era. “Wars and rumors of wars”; earthquakes, famines, persecutions, wild weather; and of course “phony messiahs and phony prophets will show up and they’ll provide signs and omens in an attempt to deceive, if possible, the chosen people.” Mark 13:22, The Complete Gospels (Polebridge Press, 2010).
One effective way to deceive the people is to suggest that misfortune is its own fault. So poverty is the fault of the poor; drug and alcohol addiction are caused by moral weakness; unemployment is the result of laziness. The result is denial on a global scale, across all social and economic strata of the seriousness and depth of what we are facing as a species. Scientists are telling us that we have the ability to choose whether to listen to the primitive parts of our brains and respond to fear, or to use the intuitive, creative parts of our brains to assure that we continue to evolve. Indeed we are at a point where we can watch over our own evolution – choice not chance.
Matthew Fox reminds us that there is really only one question: How to love the world. Pessimism, cynicism, and despair teach us how not to love the world. These are sins that lead us – in Paul’s updated words – to make concessions to “the lifestyle of the age and its pursuit of self-gratification.” The world is heavily invested in denial. Denial is the choice to be deliberately ignorant of conditions that will overtake us in the end if we do not wake up.
Please pass the bread.
“Washington Legal: What Secretaries Know and When They Know It.” Behind the scenes in a Washington, D.C. law firm at the turn of the 21st Century, an unconventional Human Resources Director protects her secretarial staff from dysfunctional bosses, rolls with the punches of outsourcing and evolving digital technology, and uncovers a pre-9/11 international deal that leads to murder. This is a short, fast-paced, political intrigue: Yours for just 99 cents on your Kindle.
“The J’Argon,”is a full-length, future-fiction fantasy published in 2000 by iUniverse.com, now also available as an e-Book from Amazon. The J’Argon is the leader of a spiritual alliance that has voice but not vote in 22nd century global politics. She is the Fourth J’Argon and the first woman to hold the title since the Covenant of the Word was formed in 2047. Her long-time lover, partner, and soul friend, the Arch Deacon of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. is a leader in the liberation underground. The Year is 2157. The United States has become a repressive theocracy, where a great evil holds sway. The Arch Deacon must open his prophetic Christian mysticism to the J’Argon’s ancient earth-based magic and awaken his own adept power so that together they can defeat the Dragon.
After 25 years as a legal secretary in Washington, D.C., Sea Raven moved to the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia in 2002. She is now a volunteer chaplain with Hospice of the Panhandle in Martinsburg. Her work as a free-lance writer, musician, and worship leader is grounded in post-modern Christian scholarship, and focused on justice, peace, and the integrity of creation. Sea Raven is an Associate of Westar (the Jesus Seminar); a board certified Associate Clinical Chaplain (College for Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy); and a designated Lay Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Frederick, Maryland.
The “great discourses” from the Gospel of John end with the prayer of John’s Jesus for the protection of his followers from the hatred of “the world.” Just as Jesus and God are one, so the followers of Jesus are one with Jesus and therefore with God, and those in the future who come to know Jesus through the message of the followers will also be admitted into the wholeness of God, Jesus, and the followers of Jesus. Jesus consecrates himself – he prepares himself to be the sacrifice – that will in turn consecrate the followers and those who accept the followers’ message, and will reconcile and unify all these elements: God, Jesus, followers, and future believers. This is the heart of John’s theology and the theology of the Church that eventually was established by the Council of Nicea in 325 c.e. The rest of the story completes the metaphors of water and wine, baptism and communion, and the conferring of the Holy Spirit (the “spirit of truth”).
Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox worked out a theology that makes sense for post-modern, 21st century mystics who want to honor the Christ of John’s Gospel without forcing the text into impossible literalism. Fox’s “Cosmic Christ” evokes responsibility for the condition of all forms of life on Planet Earth, and confers the power to carry out the work that arises from that responsibility. Taking John’s Jesus at his word, when we know who Jesus was, we know God; we know the Christ – the wisdom and the spirit of truth that was one with God from the beginning. We then can know our own selves at that same level of wisdom and truth. We are then one with God, one with the Christ, and we ourselves then can take on the power and responsibility of being – embodying, incarnating – the Cosmic Christ. Fox writes,
Because we are Cosmic Christs and because we are called to birth the yet unborn Cosmic Christ, we are, like Jesus, prophets of order (justice) over chaos (disorder and injustice). This is why [Meister] Eckhart can declare that “all virtue of the just and every work of the just is nothing other than the Son – who is the New Creation – being born from the Creator. In the depths of our being, where justice and work are one, we work one work and a New Creation with God.” . . . There is only one work – the work of the Cosmic Christ who declared in the person of Jesus, “I and the Creator are one . . . Whatever the Creator does the Son does too. The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, pp. 138-139.
The difference in theology between the writer of John’s Gospel and progressive/liberal Christian exiles from traditional doctrine is that this identity with the Cosmic Christ is available to anyone who signs onto the work, whether that person accepts the first century myth of the resurrection or not. The work is justice-compassion. In Fox’s thought, justice must be combined with compassion, or it becomes chaos – injustice. But beyond justice-compassion lies non-violent, radical fairness. Non-violent, radical fairness makes justice-compassion distributive because retribution is no longer part of the discussion. John’s envelope has now been pushed to its 1st century limits.
In 21st century terms, to encounter the hatred of the world, to experience oneself as alien in the world, as John’s Jesus describes his followers, means to be engaged in the struggle for distributive justice-compassion. This struggle is not restricted to assuring economic safety-nets for the poor and elderly; those are the easy fights. Where alienation and hatred are met head-on is in the attempt to understand that unjust systems are the underlying cause of war and violent crimes against persons or property; and in attempting to create life-affirming consequences that can interrupt those continuous loops of injustice that give rise to crime and war. Taking the part of the shooter at Virginia Tech, or the one who opened fire on a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Knoxville, Tennessee, invites a collective social wrath that is justifiable from a systemic point of view, but completely misses redemption that is only possible in non-violent, radical fairness. In contrast, the response of the Amish community toward the man who slaughtered their children in their own schoolhouse stunned conventional thinking, perhaps because it came from a spiritual ethic that seems to elude most of us.
The Gospel of John defines a life-and-death struggle between the world ruled by Satan and those who live in God’s love as revealed through the Anointed Jesus. John’s Jesus goes to God, leaving his followers to deal with the world until he comes again. The mandate is to love one another, and do the same work of distributive justice-compassion in this life that Jesus did. The power to do that is granted through the Holy Spirit, conferred upon the followers at Jesus’ death. The promise is that Jesus will come back and take to God all who follow him, and believe that he was the one Anointed by God to restore God’s rule. But the work is to be done here and now.
John’s 1st century Gospel speaks to post-modern, 21st century cosmology to the extent that we experience God, the Christ, the Spirit, and humanity as one. To the extent we experience ourselves as the embodiment – the incarnation – of the Cosmic Christ, we experience John Dominic Crossan’s kenotic god, whose presence is justice and life, and whose absence is injustice and death.