Tag Archives: transformation

LECTURE BY DR. KAREN BLOOMQUIST, Wartburg Theological Seminary

Dr. Karen Bloomquist spoke November 14, at Wartburg Theological Seminary on “Seeing, Remembering, Connecting that Transforms Us, the Church and the World.

To view the lecture in another window: Click here.

She laid out some premises:

  • We face huge economic, political, environmental, and cultural crises today.
  • These are manifest locally and globally, in often interconnected ways.
  •  There are countless examples throughout the Bible and church history where the call is clear to stand and work against all kinds of systemic injustices, from out of the heart of who we are as the baptized, redeemed people of God.
  • These crises are not just ethical issues that the church is called to address “out there,” but they deeply infect the church itself — how it views itself, how it operates, and how the church itself is in bondage.
  • Through the power of the Spirit, we, the church, and the world, are transformed by God and through those, who across time, space and life situations are most different from us.   

Bloomquist invited the audience to re-envision what it means to be church.  “Being formed as church necessarily involves being with those who are different from ‘us.’ Further, having our perspectives transformed,  we ourselves are being transformed by those who are different. They help us see what we would not otherwise see, when bound in by our own subjective-based readings of what is occurring. Being open to how others see, experience, interpret really does matter.”

She suggested that we begin with the world. “This is a significant methodological shift in theology: rather than beginning by focusing on the faith, the church, and from there to ‘the world,’ I am proposing that we begin with the world — what is going on there becomes a ‘wake up’ call to the church. The world is ‘in our face’ as a church, because the world is very much in us, whether we realize it or not.  Churches that assume they are set apart from the world often operate with assumptions and practices that are more affected/shaped by the world than by biblical/theological perspectives, particularly in their quest to be ‘successful.’ It’s not that the world tells the church how to be the church, but opens up challenges that the church must engage if it is to be faithful to who it is called to be, the bearer of news that really is good today,  i.e., liberating, healing, transformative of what holds us and all of creation in bondage.”  She described the need to “exegete our context.”

Bloomquist continued, “An especially urgent calling of churches and religious folk is to open the space, point to the evidence and pose the critical questions.  People are feeling acutely betrayed by the promises they have bought into…[provided] by large corporate interests determined to keep the market as ‘free’ as possible.   Matters of basic meaning, hope and values are at stake, which should be the forte of the church.  This false idolatry is exposed not primarily from top-down pronouncements, but from out of the actual contradictions as people have experienced them. The urgent pastoral task is to stand aside and open up ways for people to name, lament and rage about the contradictions between what they have been promised by this distinctly American faith and what they are actually experiencing — inviting them to lament, and rage, even outrageously so.”

Bloomquist invited the audience to engage in theological practices of subversive remembering.We are reminded of how countercultural and even subversive were the communities gathered around Jesus…Truth telling emerges through the subversive remembering (a) of who/whose we are in relation to God, (b) of what has come before us, and (c) of the realities of our neighbors globally as well as locally. Empowered through the Holy Spirit, this has the potential to transform what is occurring in light of God’s in-breaking new reality.  Subversive remembering is a theologically-empowered social practice of expressing ‘when/who/what’ has been forgotten or overlooked.  It exposes our illusions, false gods and the domination (empire) and injustices they perpetuate, and impels truth-telling and organized action (resistance) for the sake of God’s world.”  She added, “This occurs especially through those two practices that are central to what it means to be the church.”

 Bloomquist went on to describeecclesial practices of connecting. “This implies a more communio[1] understanding of ecclesia:  a worldview of relationality instead of individualism; instead of aspiring to be self-sufficient churches, our interrelatedness; instead of our strength or know-how, our vulnerability; openness to listen and learn from others, and even be transformed by those different from ourselves;  shifting from the arrogance of empire and theologies of success to attitudes of humility that are shaped by a theology of the cross, and by living out the virtues advocated throughout the New Testament.”

She concluded by saying, “Seeing, remembering, connecting are simultaneously an interactive set of practices distinctive to the church, but also publically discernible to those who don’t identify with the church; therefore this might even be meaningful, persuasive to those ‘in the world,’ where they, too, join in these practices of seeing, remembering, connecting with different eyes, experiences, approaches…even through different faith lenses…and together participating in the transformation of the world.”

[1] These multi-lateral relationships and understandings have been developed, for example, through various statements and publications of the Lutheran World Federation: A Communion of Churches.


CHRISTIAN UNITY by Jennifer Dahle, M.Div. Jr.

Segment of a sermon Jennifer  wrote for a prayer service centered on Christian unity. Her sermon was chosen to be given in Oklahoma City this past spring.

Text: I Cor. 15:51-58.

“Listen! I will tell you a mystery.”  A mystery that will happen in the twinkling of an eye, a mystery filled with trumpet blasts and the raising of the dead to immortality, a mystery filled with the transformation of the living, when corrupted flesh is made incorruptible and the power of death, sin, is broken forever. In that moment God will fully reveal Godself, and we will eternally live out our new identity in Christ. This mystery contains an ending that is so wonderful it is beyond our wildest imaginings! BUT, while we are caught up in our contemplation of this future moment we must not forget that our mystery, just like all mysteries, begins with a death, the death of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ death is the key to our future transformation and our starting point when speaking of Christian unity.

I recently had an opportunity to visit Taize, France, a community that invites young people, year round, from all around the globe, to partake in worship, reflection, and work. Take, for instance, the story of Sebastian, a 17 year old boy from Chile who is studying abroad in Prague, and decided to visit Taize. One evening I found myself discussing with Sebastian the similarities and differences between the Lutheran and Evangelical churches. For Sebastian, this was a sensitive subject because in Chile there is a great divide between the two and tensions are high. He constantly finds himself put down by his family and friends because he enjoys worshipping at both churches while they do not. When I asked him if Prague was any better, he said it was worse. Beautiful churches sit virtually empty on almost every corner because most of the population is atheist. According to Sebastian, the people of Prague become very angry when you try to speak with them about God. In fact, the other young people he goes to school with in Prague spent the better part of a month calling him dirty names because of his Christian beliefs and his desire to talk about them.

It was at Taize that Sebastian experienced peace, love, and reconciliation, and he felt renewed. No one at Taize cared what church he attended. No one refused to speak with him about faith and God, nor did they avoid his questions. He found himself surrounded by young people whose primary concern was living for a short time in community with other Christians, other seekers, and other young people searching for a place where they were accepted without question. All that was asked of him was to help keep the bathrooms clean. Sebastian was content to join in the prayer of the brothers and found joy living in communion, united with his brothers and sisters in Christ.

  After visiting Taize, I found myself asking the question, why is ecumenism so easy at Taize, and so hard for the rest of us? Especially when you consider that all Christian denominations recognize the importance of Christ’s actions: his life, death, and resurrection. We agree that it is through Christ that we will undergo this mystery of transformation that Paul speaks of. We trust in Christ. I wonder, however, if we have a tendency to put our trust in our own traditions and denominations over and above the Word of Jesus Christ. In today’s text, Paul claims that “the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” Our persistence in creating distinctions amongst ourselves can take our attention from God and hinder the unity that God wants us to embrace.

 A man I spoke with at the World Council of Churches in Geneva said that it is our job as churches, in terms of creating unity, to “plant the seeds of the trees under whose shade we may never sit.”  We work together now for justice and peace, all the while knowing that “nothing we do here on earth affects what God has already done for us.”

God gives us victory through Christ. We don’t earn it and we definitely don’t deserve it, but we are free. Free to serve the Lord who is in the poor, the sick, the elderly, and the oppressed. We are free to live in community with each other. This is the good news. God loves us in spite of ourselves, and continues to work in us and through us. The incarnate Jesus Christ disrupts and ultimately breaks the power of sin and death on our behalf. This truth is what we keep at the center of our prayer for unity as we follow our call to move forward, to be in communion with each other, and to seek Jesus in the broken places of this world, as he seeks us.