Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Notes for Chapter 5 of Death on a Friday Afternoon

The Fifth Word from the cross:

"I thirst."

1. "Reflections on this Fifth Word ..... traditionally refer to the Church's missionary impulse, an impulse driven by Jesus' thirsting for souls." (p. 145). Surely Jesus was literally thirsty as he endured the physical agony of the cross. Do you think this is all that he intended to convey by saying "I thirst" ----- or are Neuhaus and those to whom he refers in this quote accurate in thinking that he meant more (much more)? (Or is it to be taken with the previous cry of the "derelict" -- "My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?" -- cf. Psa. 63:1 = "You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.")

2. In a circular argument -- illustrated by Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity -- the author says "those who kneel at his cross share his thirst, which is both a thirst for him and for all for whom he thirsts." What does he mean in saying that in serving others ("Jesus in distressed disguise") we offer a drink and "our thirst is quenched. I thirst. I quench." (p. 146).

3. A significant paragraph (pp. 152-153) begins with this statement: "Along the way to the kingdom, to share in the cup is to share in his suffering." It ends with this statement: "The Church is sent to all the world, hyssop in hand." What does the author mean?

4. The Church believes that the gospel is "quite simply, 'the truth.' It is the true story about the world and everybody in the world. That is an insufferably arrogant assertion, unless it is true." ............. "The Church imposes nothing. She only proposes. But what she proposes she proposes as the truth." (p. 156). Is it arrogant to believe/assert that the gospel is exclusively true?

5. "The way of the Christian life is cruciform. Jesus did not suffer and die in order that we need not suffer and die, but in order that our suffering and death might be joined to his in redemptive victory." (p. 159). Without his drinking the dregs of his cup of suffering (Gethsemane and Golgotha), there could be no redemption for the world. What then does this mean to those who are his followers? What, if anything, does it say to you regarding the way the gospel is commonly presented and understood.

6. "It is not that Christ did not do enough, but that he invites us to participate with him in the salvation of the world." (p. 160). How so? Does this say anything about how we should pray? Does it say anything about the times when we pray to be relieved of suffering and are met with silence?

7. Neuhaus views the urgency of the Christian mission being to "alert the world to its story, which is the story of the amazing grace by which it is redeemed." (p. 160). That does make it urgent. But it's a different kind of urgency than that of the missions conference Neuhaus attended as a seven year old boy. What's the difference?

8. "The crucial point is that those who are saved without knowing the name of Jesus the Christ are nonetheless saved by Jesus the Christ." (p. 167). Respond to that assertion. Is it "the crucial point?" Is it true?

9. If it is assumed that those who've never heard the gospel are saved in their ignorance (It would seem people can't be held responsible for obeying that which they've not heard), Neuhaus yet argues that there is an urgency to our telling the gospel to the world? He makes his argument with the following statements: "Our very humanity is at stake in our bearing witness to the truth." (p. 168) "Possessing the truth and sharing the truth are not two things, but one." (p. 168) ".....the more we give the more we possess." (p. 169). "..... love is either shared or lost." (p. 172). "Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is ignorance. What others have a right to know they also have a need to know, if in fact it is the truth about their lives." (p. 172). "The driving motivation of evangvelism is the irrepressible desire to communicate what shall be on he basis of what already is, ......" (p. 176). Respond to these statements.

10. "The Greek word that speaks of Christ emptying himself is kenosis, and authentic missionary work, whether with the neighbor next door or in a distant and exotic culture ......., is always kenotic." What does he mean? Do you agree?

11. What does Neuhaus mean by the following statement? ".... the proclamation of God's love in Christ is the most important thing the Church does, because it is what she does uniquely."

12. Respond to the following statement: "Every Christian participtes in the mission of the Church, but, high-voltage mission festival rhetoric notwithstanding, not every Christian has the specific call to be a missionary." (p. 178). What specific call does every Christian have? (cf. the 4 sentences on p 180 which begin as follows: "The Christian life is about living ........") and the following statements on p. 182: "Christ thirsts for those who throw away their lives in the everydayness of duties discerned and duties done." "Through such lives his mission is advanced, often in ways that elude our sure perception."

13. According to Neuhaus, why does God send out missionaries? (p. 182). What do they find when they in their mission work "come upon the most forsaken" of people? (p. 183).

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Chapter 4 -- Discussion Notes

The 4th Word from the cross -- "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

1. Throughout the book Neuhaus has frequently referrred to Jesus as a "derelict." How do you feel about his use of that very harsh term? ("...... the English word 'dereliction' catches the desperation of the scene.")

2. The author defines the term in the opening sentence of the chapter: "......the derelict, the abandoned one." It brings to the fore the urgent question of whether Jesus was truly abandoned on the cross. Was he? If yes, why? If no, why did he cry out ("The Greek word used suggests that he screamed with a loud cry, .....Why!!!!" --p. 103)?

3. "'Dereliction' is an apt word for the times we call modern" (p. 104). From that assertion the author words a scathing assessment of the current world. What is he referring to when he says, "No matter how many fairy tales we tell, when we know that they are fairy tales, they cannot re-enchant the world." (p. 104)?

4. "Dover Beach" (easily found on the Internet) is a famous poem which speaks of a "long, withdrawing roar." What is it that withdrew and is gone ....... and has left us with "fragmentation, alienation, forsakenness, abandonment"? (p. 105). Spend some time thinking about this. (In what sense is this gloom the result of our being forsaken by God? In what sense is it the result of our forsaking God?).

5. WWI destroyed a sense of optimism that many prior to 1914 possessed, a belief in "the inevitability of progress." (p. 107). But perhaps the greatest loss was of a place to turn in our disillunionment. Neuhaus says with bewilderment (while considering the fact that the "presumably enlightened century" -- the 20th -- loosed more rivers of blood and piled up more corpses than any century in history), "Yet our nights are not torn by the scream, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Why is this so? What did "the enlightened century" do with God? Or what did we learn in our enlightenment about God? (That he doesn't exist? That he is impotent?)?

6. What does the following statement mean? -- "Our world is filled with pitiable Last Men and Last Women, as well as secular nihilists." (p. 108). Why does life have no definable meaning to them? Why then do they contnue to insist that their "lives have meaning"?

7. The worst thing that could possibly happen has already happened -- On a certain Friday afternoon God was killed. Given that, to what does the following statement refer? -- "To be sure, at the heart of darkness there is also hope, because the worst word is not the last word."

8. Neuhaus sees hope in the hoplessness of the cross, light in the utter darkness. Perhaps it's not overstating the case to say that there was a touch of optimism in the horrible cry from the cross. "One who cries out, 'My God, My God' -- although he be crying to a God experienced as absent -- has not lost hope." How might the cry of a derelict who had lost hope differ from Jesus's cry?

9. What are the "American specialties of long standing" mentioned on p. 117? What role (if any) does the cross play in the practice of these American specialties?

10. What in the world has happened to a culture that believes it to be a "mark of sophistication" to reduce "wonder to banality"? (p. 125), to treat "reverence as vulgar; irreverence (calling a crucifix submersed in a bottle of urine art) as chic" (p. 125)?

11. How does "radical subjectivism" (p. 126) judge the motives/actions of one who jumps in a river to save a drowning child and another who watches from the bank as the child drowns?

12. What does the following statement mean? "It is precisely in the darkness of abandonment that God's power shines through our human weakness." (p. 136).

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Thanks to all of you for wrestling with chapter two which deals with Jesus's words to the "good" (really?) thief -- and what that man's story might say about the rest (all the rest) of us. The word "stimulating" seems inadequate to describe the great meeting Monday night. I hope you'll continue the discussion with posts to the blog.

Amy Jonakin has offered to bring a cake (or something) next week. If someone wants to relieve her of that duty (since she did it only a week ago), please say so.

Discussion questions/ideas for Monday, November 19:

The third word from the cross -- "When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, 'Woman, behold, your son!' Then he said to the disciple, 'Behold, your mother!' And from tht hour the disciple took her to his own home."

1. To what does Neuhaus refer in his use of the phrase "A Strange Glory"?

2. "Did (Mary) know, as she stood there by her dying son, that this was the way of the strange glory by which he would conquer sin and death?" (p. 72). What do you think Mary knew as she stood with John at the foot of the cross?

3. In what sense is the following statement true? "That was her body on the cross, for Jesus, virgin born, had no body other than the body he had received from Mary." (p. 73).

4. Neuhas says of the "docetists" that they, "thinking to honor God ........ denied the ways of God." What does he mean? Of whom is he speaking when he says further, "Such Christians are still with us today."

5. Read these sentences together and if they seem true to you, restate them in your own words: "They could not have been closer, Jesus and Mary, and yet there was a strange distancing." (p. 75). "The love that lets go is never easy. Such love has to be learned." (p. 75, 76).

6. Jesus spoke of his "hour." Of what was he speaking? He says also that Mary had to experience that "hour."
So, according to the author, must we. "In relation to Jesus, there is no way to be part, to have part, except to take part in his 'hour.'" (p. 76). Do you agree? How do we do that?

7. "Some Christians who have an intense devotion to Mary are embarrassed and offended by (the) Gospel passages that suggest a distancing between Jesus and his mother." (p. 78). Neuhaus says they are wrong, that they fail to understand that "in this distancing love is a deepening of discipleship." What does he mean?

8. Neuhaus insists that "Mary cannot be honored enough." But he recognizes that she can be honored wrongly, thereby being not honored at all (in fact, dishonored). What is he talking about? How do you feel about it?

9. In a social commentary, the author says, "In all our promotion of empowerment, fulfillment, self-esteem and self-actualization, we should know what we are doing. We are rejecting the very heart of what it means to be a Christian." (p. 81). "Maybe we have grown so accustomed to living against the grain of our humanity that we have confused ourselves about which way the grain runs." (p. 81). His example of how to do right regarding this subject is Mary. What does he mean?

10. Was Mary helpless as she stood before Jesus on the cross? Was there anything she could/did do to help him there? "Stabat Mater dolorosa" (p. 82).

11. Why is there hope "in the heart of darkness"? (p. 83)

12. Mary was, like all of us, a disciple by grace. And yet, it was her consenting to the announcement that she would bear God's son, that made her and our discipleship possible. Without her consent we couldn't be Christians. It's in this context that Neuhaus and others use the phrase, "the effect us the cause of the cause." They don't mean that be just flowery verbiage, but to mean something profound. What do you think?

13. In what sense does Neuhaus argue that John was Jesus as he stood with Mary at the cross. How could that be true of all of us? (That we are Jesus, the children of Mary).

14. How does the following statement relate to the role of Mary in relation to the church, to us: "For adults to turn and become children, to live again in a world of miracle and play, requires a larger horizon than that provided by the mother. The mother as Thou was but to prepare the way for an encounter with a greater Thou who is able to comprehend the contradictions of one's ever more complex existence." (p. 100).

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Thank you for the thoughtful contributions to the blog this week. Please keep them coming. They're wonderful!

I know some have found the mechanics of posting your thoughts difficult. I've asked Sonya Guice (someone who knows how to converse with computers) to post some instructions to help us.

Thanks are due to Amy Jonakin for the brown sugar pound cake (with brown sugar icing no less) this week. And to Darrel Washington for the coffee. And thanks to Linda Ghignone for volunteering to provide something to munch on on the 12th.

Please consider the following things in preparation for the Book Club meeting scheduled for Monday, November 12............

Death On A Friday Afternoon -- Chapter Two -- Judge Not

1. Study the following fascinating (at least to me) statements and tell what they mean to you: "Whatever else (he) had stolen in (his life), .....the 'good thief' stole at the end a reward he did not deserve." (p. 35). "Traveling in the ragtag company of those on the way to paradise and seeing Dysmas up there in the lead, we .........." (p. 43).

2. In what sense does Neuhaus, following the lead of Dorothy Sayers play, The Man Born to be King, say of Jesus and Dysmas, side by side on their crosses, that "in some strange way, each is bearing the pain of the other."? (p. 37).

3. What point does this chapter make, based on the story of the "good thief", about the quality of faith necessary to enable Jesus to enter our lives and to bring wonder to us? (2nd paragraph, p. 38). See also the following related statement on p. 42: "Look at him with whatever faith you have and know that your worry abvout your lack of faith is itself a sign of faith."

4. "The Church, the community of faith, is the people ahead of time." (p. 39). How does this iluminate the discussion began on p. 38 about the "disputed sovereignty" of Jesus?

5. "Paradise" (perfection) is what Jesus promises the good thief. Neuhaus says that must be our goal too, that we can settle for nothing less and that perfection is that for which we all long withing a longing marked by "hunger and dissatisfaction." Put in your own words the meaning of the following statement from p. 39: "What we long for is touched in our exaltations; in our devastations it is known by its absence."

6. What does the imagery in the following statement mean to you? "A new tree of life, the tree of the cross."

7. Neuhaus speaks of the "very old and attractive idea ...... that in the end, everyone will be saved" (p. 43) What in the story of the good thief leads to that idea?

8. How do you feel about the following question, based on the assertion in I Timothy that God "desires all to be saved"? --- "Is it possible that God's purpose will be thwarted?" (p. 44)

9. We cannot be like God and not "desire" that all will in the end be saved. But what is the difference between "desire" and "hope?"

10. On the subject of universal salvation the author argues (as I believe he would on a myriad of subjects) that we should possess a certain "cognitive humility." (p. 50). What does he mean? ("It would seem to be the unanimous experience of Christian thinkers and mystics that, the farther they travel on the roads of thought and contemplation, the more they know that they do not know.") (p. 53).

11. "Given the evidence of Scripture and tradition, we cannot deny that hell exists. We can, however, hope that hell is empty." Share your thoughts on that statement.

12. If hell is and shall remain empty, what is the purpose of all the Bible talk about it. Neuhaus says it is "admonitory, cautionary, a warning and alarm." What are your thoughts?

13. Spend some time with the long paragraph on p. 70. Be prepared to share your thoughts.