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Saturday Book – One Thousand Gifts – Part 3

Here is a link to part 1.
Here is a link to part 2.
We take up Chapter #2 this time. Chapter 1 was the writer’s confrontation with her lost or sad state. It also starts to ask the questions if anything else is possible. Chapter 2 in my mind asks the question: Where does it start? If I have been brought low where does the outward spiral of grace start? The big protestant theological word is Justification – How am I made just or righteous. But I like AV’s journey or life metaphors better. If you are a Protestant you have lived in the hegemony of legal metaphors – “declared righteous”. It is not that this is wrong, but as a pastor it feels like that metaphor is tired. It is fighting the last war. AV’s life metaphors are better for today.

I. AV’s p 26-27 – “For years of mornings…or in empty nothingness”
So what is the start of grace? Reflecting on the graphic of the last post, when does the inward curve stop? How is AV describing that end? What did you think when you read those words?
Part of my understanding of One Thousand Gifts is its deep connection to the universal Christian story. Post #1 listed some of those. So I bring some secondary material to show this every now and then. This chapter has a great parallel in Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation. Luther’s HD #18 – “It is certain that man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the grace of Christ.” How is AV at that point?

II. AV’s p 31-32 – “All my eyes…reads ‘eucharisteo’”
What is the key to grace for AV? What unlocks the heart or the head? Where does one “see” God? (NB – Luther joked about discovering the gospel in the same place (in cloaca). I don’t think that AV’s toilet brush is an accident.)
Is the juxtaposition of toilets and bread jarring? (C/R John 6:51-66, what’s he talking about? )
Where do we see God right now? What is the sacrament of: Grace, joy, thanksgiving (p33)?
There is a strong sacramental theme in AV’s book. The sacrament itself is eating and drinking the body and blood. Grace can be offensive. It is worth pausing to think about how grace can offend, and when one is ready to give thanks for it.
Go to AV’s p 37 – “But I wonder it …fulfilling life?”
What is AV’s initial understanding of this? How is Eucharist/Lord’s Supper/Communion an odd jumble of taboos? How does it force us if we are thinking to confront our situation? How does it proclaim grace? What does it mean that God is present – even here?

III. AV’s p40 – end of chapter – “The act of sacrificing…”
Talk about how a sacrifice is a breaking of the inward curve to an outward life.
What do you think of AV’s last question? Are there times when we might be more open to saying “yes”? What comes first? What is answering no? Is saying yes the end – is it just a point in time, or does the “yes life” continue? How do we live Eucharisteo?

It is here where the modern protestant understanding of grace is seriously handicapped. It has too often taken the legal metaphors of declared righteous as doctrinal taboos that exclude other biblical ways of talking about the work of grace in our lives. AV wants to live Eucharisteo, not just be satisfied with a mental understanding. Chapter 3 next time will pick up on this theme more fully. If chapter 1 is the end of the rope, and chapter 2 is the beginning of grace, chapter 3 is – How does one live grace?

Saturday Book – One Thousand Gifts – part 2 (a little late, sorry)

Dante’s Divine Comedy starts our with the line “In the middle of life’s journey, I found myself in a dark wood. The true way was lost…” Chapter 1 of One Thousand Gifts is Ann Voskamp confronting that her way was lost.

I. The most stark of these passages starts on page 9 and continues for a couple of paragraphs. From…through: “For decades, a life….snapped shut to grace”

The questions that I asked myself and the groups were: What are the possible reactions to loss? What were AV’s? What kind of paths does that set you on.

This little graphic above highlights the problem. One reaction is the reaction of the law which is curved inward. Cutting off more and more of yourself in reaction to loss. Eventually trying to save yourself, you lose yourself. The opposite reaction is grace which moves outward.

II.The next passage that digs a little more into this starts on page 13: “I keep my eyes…branded our lives”

Mull in your heads her Dad’s words. What way is her Dad spiraling? What amount of control is he attempting to exert? Who does he not trust?

Taking a step into the religious realm , does the law (the 10 commandments as a handy substitute) make sense? Even at a simple level do we grasp what they are asking? Do they sound like a good thing? Can we do them? What is the end of the law? (Or what is the end of AV’s Dad’s life of trying to control everything?)

Compare that to the cross, does the cross make sense?

The law makes sense and even sounds like a good thing, but we can’t do it. We can try. We can cut our lives down. We can curve inward ever more, but even that smaller life is uncontrollable. The end point of the law is death, a life closed to anything other than pain. When you compare that to the cross, the cross makes no sense. We don’t get the cross, but a life lived under the cross opens up. We’ve observed those. Yes there is pain, but something transcends that pain. A life lived losing it, is one that ends up saving it.

III. Passage Starting on page 15. “From all of our beginnings…all of the remaining paradise”

What is AV’s diagnosis of sin or our natural state? In grasping for the apple/in grasping for control what are we saying? Who are we turning toward? (Compare that to John 1:1 – “the word was with God” in our English has the Greek preposition to or toward. A very wooden literal translation is – “The Word was towards God”.)

I’m Lutheran so I have another reference point here – Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation (1519) Thesis 19 – “The person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as thought they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened.”

In the middle of loss what is the worst thing that we have all heard?
Per Luther #19 – a) don’t talk to me a deeper reasons. God hasn’t told me those. And he probably isn’t going to tell me. b) but like AV’s dad we want to know the invisible things. We want them to make sense.
How has sin altered us so that we no longer see? Why does that outward curve look so scary?

IV. Passage starting on page 18: “John shrugs his shoulders…remembering the story too.”

Here is Ann’s clue or her witness. Thinking of John’s witness…What is the great lie of “our” lives? What does following that path lead to? What gets “cut off” to keep the illusion going?

V. Passage starting on page 22: “They eat the mystery…To more God places?”

What does AV describe losses as? What do losses force us to confront?

Luther Heidelberg Disp #20 – “He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God see through suffering and the cross.”

In what is God most made manifest? How is the cross the start of an “emptier, fuller life”? Why is that such a scandal?

Saturday Book – One Thousand Gifts – Post 1

We have been reading this book – One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp – in our Thursday Bible study group. I’m going to kick off a web series for Saturdays with this book. I’m not sure exactly how to replicate the discussion of the live group. So what I’m going to do first week is suggest the book and give my quick review/preview. Then over the following Saturdays post the study questions, themes, discussion starters that I found while reading and used with the group. Maybe give some of my personal musings around those questions. Some books will take longer than other. This particular one is packed full. We seem to be taking 1 chapter a week although I expect to pick up pace after chapter 4. I can’t recommend it enough. But I can say you really should read it with somebody else to share the questions. So here is my review/preview.

There is a surface way to read this book as “one woman’s story”. It is a good book in that sense although stylistic and aesthetic questions to me would just make it a good book on par with many other memoirs produced today. But AV’s one woman’s story is actually a universal story. It is a challenge and a spotlight. As a spotlight it highlights ground that frankly many of us will never walk – the ground being too scary to walk. It gives us a mental picture and some of the emotional experience without the risk. It stands as a challenge to walk there anyway. St. Paul would write in Eph 2:10 that, “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph 2:10 ESV) We don’t know where that road leads or what those forms the light shines on are for us. AV encourages or invites us to walk anyway.

In that way, in being one woman’s story that is also a universal story, this book stands in a great tradition of mystical yet practical Christian writing. You could say it starts with Augustine’s Confessions, wanders through such works as Thomas a Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ, Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, John Tauler and Meister Eckhardt (the German mystic predecessors to Luther), to the more modern example of Thomas Merton’s Seven Story Mountain or the writings of Henri Nouwen. AV has written a deep book. I’ve read it through now about three times and find stuff each time. I am coming at this from a more Lutheran/Catholic view. If this falls into someone in the Reformed Tradition I’m sure that there are other examples like maybe Oswald Chambers or an older example being the Nevin and Schaff Mercersburg Theology of the sacrament. (AV seems to have a very sacramental view of life and world. That is odd for a Zondervan published work, but hopefully a signal of good things as this is a very popular book.) The biggest accomplishment of One Thousand Gifts, is how deep its roots are in the Christian tradition and how rich the life portrayed is, and yet it is a completely modern work. In a modern world drained of meaning and grace – AV provides a spotlight and challenge for how to live that today. The themes are universal and deeply orthodox; the life is from today.