Saturday, March 03, 2007

Water Buffalo Theology notes

Over on my main theology blog I've posted the handouts for last Sunday's and tomorrow's Theology of the Cross classes:

Since I've been blogging on a reasonably regular basis on all my blogs, this time I'm not cross-posting from there to here. However, today I'm posting here the 2-page handout of some of my ideas from Water Buffalo Theology I'll give the class tomorrow. Ages ago I blogged most of my notes from our online discussion; Water Buffalo Theology, which is ecological theology, liberation theology and an offering in the Christian-Buddhist dialogue formed the main impetus towards my wanting to develop a course on the subject for the local church. We used the 25th anniversary edition of the book, published by Orbis—no surprise, right?! On Amazon I discovered Kosuke Koyama has written what I assume is a companion book, No Handle on the Cross: An Asian Meditation on the Crucified Mind.

Water Buffalo Theology notes | Theology of the Cross class 2

During spring 2003 I participated in an online discussion of Water Buffalo Theology by Kosuke Koyama on the old United Church of Christ forums; WBT is liberation theology, ecological theology and an offering in the Christian-Buddhist dialogue. The book contained a lot of theology of the cross and lots of Luther (except for the chapter based on the epistle of James...). What struck me most about the book were the contrasts the author drew between Christianity and Buddhism! My notes added up to around 40 pages—here’s a very small sample of the notes I posted during the conversation.
Part I: Interpreting History | Chapter 1: Theological Situations in Asia and the Mission of the Church

In the Church our formal symbols are scriptures and sacraments. But how about the symbolic meaning of potluck dinners, committees, worship style, social and political activism? Thailand’s cultural symbols include sticky-rice, bananas, and the rainy season; the state of Maine might include blueberries and lobsters. For San Diego, try Big Box retailers (like the rest of the country), surfers and surfing.

More thoughts about Hong Kong, homecoming and us:

Though initially it may sound astounding to make Jakarta or anywhere else “as central as Jerusalem,” if the person and work of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ is not for Jakarta just as much as it is for Jerusalem, he truly is not Lord of all.

Koyama asks where Hong Kong can celebrate homecoming; I believe Hong Kong will be able to celebrate homecoming (after all, isn’t homecoming the ultimate thanksgiving?) within a community gathered not only to perfunctorily and ritually evoke the presence of the risen Christ in Word and Sacrament, but when that assembly attests to the presence of the Christ in each other, having gone slowly enough to ignore at least some of the noisiness of commerce and consumerism, having decided to seek the welfare of the place where they are rather than seeking the wellbeing of their purses and properties: looking outward to the other’s interests and inward to a relational and re-creative self.

Chapter 3: Gun and Ointment | The Future of the Christian World Mission in Asia

Kosuke Koyama says Jesus’ anointing shows, “the substance and manner of God’s participation in history.” During Holy Week 2003 I blogged about Jesus’ anointing! Rather than being anointed by the temple hierarchy and the theological establishment – all guys – to reign alive in the material glory of sumptuous palatial opulence within the humanly established imperial structure, Jesus was anointed into his death in the glory of the cross by a woman, who because of gender and caste could have no part in the temple array. That woman, who to us is nameless, anointed Jesus at the house of a person totally outcast from polite society, far outside of the world’s sanctioned arrangements and expectations but right within God’s order that invalidates and inverts most imaginings of what should be: the way of the Cross.

Prayer and hymn singing in the vernacular is one of Luther’s Marks of the True Church; I’m convinced Evangelism in the vernacular also needs to happen for the Church; what would evangelism in the vernacular mean to us? For Luther, suffering and persecution also defines the true Church. At the end of chapter 3, Koyama asks, “How can the Christian mission do this [stand against the guns and give passionate encouragement to all the ointments] unless it begins itself to live under the sentence of death?”

Chapter 4: The “Efficiency” of the Crucified One in the World of Technological Efficiency

In Chapter 1 the author describes Christianity’s way as slow! And now he’s writing about the amazingly “inefficient investment” of God’s nomadic peregrinations in the desert to learn the people’s hearts and to teach them one does not live by bread alone. In this context, investment is an interesting word! But God also remains faithful to providing for our material needs, and partly because of this he logically observes, “The Lordship of God has a historical substance…It is the crucified Jesus Christ in Golgotha under Pontius Pilate.” Koyama calls Jesus of Nazareth a “spiritual” Messiah, but asks if technology should be our Messiah. However, I’ll ask if technology is part of God’s provision for our physical, earthly needs? Or is technology humanity’s answer to our wants?

Part II: Rooting the Gospel | Chapter 6: Aristotelian Pepper and Buddhist Salt

Our particularly Western propensity is to equate love with emotional attachment, rather than the agape “will to love,” but the Bible and Jesus reveal God’s attachment to the world of creation as a passionate - an ardent and erotic - attachment!

Chapter 7: Neighborology

From Kosuke Koyama, the book’s author: “How can anyone be a teacher of religion unless he is at home with the language of the people?”

Chapter 8: The Wrath of God in a Culture of Tranquility

Introducing the chapter on page 68, he asks, “What is the matter with this God,” who becomes perturbed to the point of wrath?! This God is no human invention! On page 72 the author says the theology of the God not-in-history “is also the theology of God who is held captive in the continual cyclical flow of cosmic time and cannot meaningfully be moved to wrath.” This essentially is a domesticated God, of course. Finally, the not-historical God is a God continuous with humanity, with no disruption between finite and infinite.

Part III: Interpreting Thai Buddhist Life | Chapter 12: Cool Arhat and Hot God

Covenant is a hot concept, since real relationship never is cool. Buddhist holy life is lived to escape completely from existence, while Christian holy life is lived in order to be completely engaged in existence. God creates in order to have a creation to become attached to! As Koyama aptly says, this covenant-awareness has given sharp focus to history-awareness. Theologically speaking, history is the experience of covenant; evangelism means bringing the experience of covenanted relationship lived within history rather than outside of history.

Chapter 13: Apostle James in Thailand

Moving away from Luther! This chapter concisely describes how we need to live out our lives in Christ both hot-ly and cool-ly! Again Koyama reminds us the Buddha’s type of detachment includes detachment from even the very idea of oneself. Risk also is a hot concept, and Jesus calls us to a life of constant risk, but a life that shows no partiality, coolly imitating our God who “is not partial.” To become involved in the world without becoming attached to the world, or more accurately, without becoming attached to the powerful pull of the world’s fleeting, ephemeral and corrupting pleasure. Page 122: if we’re cool, “the King of Death cannot seize” us! That is so Jesus, so Paul!

Part IV: Interpreting the Christian Life | Chapter 15: Tokyo and Jerusalem

Koyama says God’s first and fundamental gift to us is “the constant awareness that we are under the judgment of the Word of God.”

Chapter 18: Three Modes of Christian Presence

A hidden presence, a sacramental presence to the world. Suffering because we’re involved with others, because we’re involved in neighborology! Participating in the “glory of the crucified Lord”—the same Paul of Tarsus also talks about “the glory of the children of God!” And isn’t our glory as God’s offspring a crucified glory and a risen glory? Professor Koyama reminded us of Luther’s, “subject to none; subject to all.”

I’ll close by quoting: In this eschatological hour, God calls us to share the pathos of God, God’s pathos toward all scattered things which are held together in the glory of the crucified Lord.

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