Friday, February 26, 2010

Eugene Peterson - The Entirety of the Bible

Eatthisbook Eugene Peterson writes that, "It takes the whole Bible to read any part of the Bible."  What a profound statement that has been sorely forgotten throughout the history of the church.  We are taught to read law as law, poetry as poetry, history as history, parable as parable, narrative as narrative.  But reading the genre appropriately as a literary genre must fall under the entirety of the Bible - the unfolding and redemptive story of God. 

It is easy to read Leviticus and say that it is a book primarily of law; but we must remember that law was given to keep chosen-Israel as a beacon to the nations to the One God Yahweh.  Poetry is not just beautiful and artistic ways of telling a story, but it is an expression of emotion making "sense" of the trials and joys of life.  Reading the historical-narrative of the the passion of Christ before the cross is not just something to be believed in as a truth, but is read in relationship of a people yearning for a messiah to come and restore Jerusalem, to be rescued from exile, to finally do what Yahweh had promised to do. 

The same is true for us today.  Our lives are part of this grand story.  We are not rewriting Scripture or adding to it, but we live under it and in it.  We can interpret the world and our lives because we have been formed as people of the story; as a people who proclaim,

"Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
Love your neighbor as yourself. (Leviticus 19:18)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Quitting as an Honorable Option

Juerg Egger of Switzerland is pulled out from bobsled after crash An article on CNN was released this morning titled, “Fear prompts bobsledders to quit Olympics.”  The article describes how Edwin van Calker of the Netherlands was unable to follow through and compete, causing the 4 man team to pull out from the Olympic event.  He told reporters that, “I have to look after my boys and can’t close my eyes to that…for me, it’s not about performing.  It’s about surviving.”  

I was impressed by Calker’s willingness to choose family over a potential sporting event honor.  The numerous injuries and even death that have resulted from these Olympic events have to raise the question “Is it really worth it?”  One of Calker’s teammates said that, “this was my last chance to do something special.”  Really?  How has “special” come to be defined so narrowly as requiring international spotlight?  Are there really only a few special things done in this world, and only every four years?

There are a number of books rotating in Christian circles about “God’s man” being “manly men.”  These books claim that men need to become manlier because that is what God has created them to be.  They are not to live by fear, but by courage.  Edwin made a decision from fear – not very much a God-type of man huh?

Incredible.  The link to the article says, “Fear turns Olympians into quitters.”  We all know quitters.  They are the ones who quit – who can’t live up to what was expected, who can’t handle the pain, who give in to early.  Quitting is weakness.  At least this is how we are brought up to think.  At what point does quitting become not only acceptable, but more honorable?  

I think Edwin van Calker has demonstrated one of these honorable moments, and he has certainly done something special at this Olympics.  

Friday, February 19, 2010

Reconciliation



Developing a theological understanding
of reconciliation has been of great importance to me lately.  The
community we live in demands learning how to share our differences,
while at the same time learning how to trust one another.  Reconciliation
is not just a patch to put over holes in the ship in order to keep it
from sinking, but is rather the wood, the nails, and the glue that make
up the composition itself.  I ran across the following quote from
Yoder this morning:
 


To be human is to have differences;
to be human wholesomely is to process those differences, not by building
up conflicting power claims but by reconciling dialogue.  Conflict
is socially useful; it forces us to attend to new data from new perspectives. 
It is useful in interpersonal process; by processing conflict, one learns
skills, awareness, trust, and hope.  Conflict is useful in intrapersonal
dynamics, protecting our concern about guilt and acceptance from being
directed inwardly only to our own feelings.  The therapy for guilt
is forgiveness; the source of self-esteem is another person who takes
seriously my restoration to community.1
 


The reality is that instructive
and beneficial conflict is hard to come by.  It is meant to be a theological
gem, but is too often a crushing boulder in reality.  The church too
often leads the pack in harboring bitterness and unresolved conflict. 
May we be formed at the table and the cross into a people who display
radical reconciliation with one another and the world, including our
enemies.  “The people of God is called to be what the world is
called to be ultimately.”2


__________
1
John Howard Yoder, Body
Politics
(Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1992), 8.
2
Ibid., ix.



Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lose the Leg and Get Through the Needle!

Camelandneedle


A friend of mine recently posted
a review of Doublas LeBlanc’s Tithing: Test Me in This
(review here).  He identifies the greatest weaknesses and strengths
of the book and recommends it for reading, but only if you are wired
to learn from stories.  The review offers praise for approaching
the issue from narrative and story rather than proof-texting the topic
by extrapolating power-packed-punch-one-liners from the Bible in order
to make a point.  However, the reviewer also points out a dissatisfaction
with using “abundant blessing in return” as a method to understand
the importance of tithing.
 


I have not read the book, but
I have been interested in the discipline of tithing.  I also applaud
and agree with both of these critiques.  The first is primarily
concerned with fulfilling a moral imperative in order to appease a judge,
the second is selfishly concerned with “giving in order to get.” 
Both of these fail to understand tithing as a submission of our whole
beings to God’s redemptive plan (sound like this post here?).
 


Where do we go wrong? 
Preachers will often say that tithing is “giving 10% of your possessions
to help the ministries of the church, the mission of God’s people,
or those who are less fortunate than you.”  Right from the start
we are set in motion to “hear but not understand” (Matthew 13). 
Our understanding of ownership, property and possession has been formed
by a consumer based economy and culture where the individual has rights,
and those rights reign supreme. 
 





“I work hard at my job, and
the money I earn is rightfully mine.”
“I earn…”
“It’s mine…”
“I deserve it…” 
 


The most hated parable in the
gospels for American society is located in Matthew 20 ((Ok, we love
the 20:16: “so the last will be first, and the first will be last,”
as long as it doesn’t mean that I have to be last (or first – confusing)). 
People starting work at different times and getting paid the same wage?! 
Gentiles being invited into the same redemption this late in the game,
when nation-Israel was God’s covenant people from the time of Abraham
(Romans 11:17)?!  A tax collector considered more righteous than
a Pharisee (Luke 18:9-14)?!  The gospel message was upside down
in 1st century Palestine; how much more even today! 
 


Our possessions control our
lives.  Jesus talks about it being easier for a camel to go through
the eye of a needle than for a rich man to submit all these things to
the Lord and enter the kingdom (Matthew 19).  So then we call upon
verses like 1 Corinthians 16:2 as the formula for giving the right amount,
thinking that if we merely chop a leg off the camel it will then fit
through the needle!  Matthew 19 is not about holding on to the
majority and giving a little; it is a call to leave behind all things
that we rely upon and cherish that are not submitted to the Lord. 
 


  1. We are not called
    to give because it is law

  2. We are not called
    to give because it helps the ministries of the church

  3. We are not called
    to give because we will receive something in return

  4. We are not called
    to do because it (BEWARE and “uh-oh”) helps our neighbor


 

We are called to submit all
that we are and all that we “have” to the Lordship of Christ, for
all that we are and all that we have is summed up in dying and rising
to new life.  I assume that the fourth “we are not called”
above will sound controversial, for if there is one thing liberal-Christianity
has taught us, it is that we are to care for the weak, the oppressed,
and the poor.  The fear with #4 is that it too quickly becomes
#1.  Issues of social-justice and ethic become the work of individuals
who also are Christian (this post would lead to a number of posts
such as “is any justice, Christian justice?” to which I affirm that
a Christian’s understanding of justice is distinct from a politically
liberal one).
 


The invitation into the kingdom
and reign of God in the here-and-now is about dying to our former selves. 
It is about giving up our self-idolatry and selfish-pursuits. 
It is about reframing our minds from ownership to stewardship. 
It is not only about restraining our desires for the ownership of things,
but actually reshaping the desire itself. 
 


Tithing will continue to be
a hot-button issue that the church struggles with.  I admit that
consumeristic/ownership understandings have been so formed in my mind
that it is difficult to understand anything else.  But I know that
I am in agreement with the reviewer, that tithing cannot be about fulfilling
a few moral obligations, nor can it be about gaining something even
greater in return.  It is about reshaping our ways of interpreting
the world to see that everything falls under the Lordship of Christ.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Heartbeats and Cartwheels



Cartwheel_c


Jamie had another prenatal
doctor’s appointment this morning where we were able to hear the heartbeat of
the baby for the second time.  It is an incredible thing to hear. 
My life can pass by so quickly, and sadly, there are days that I don’t
fixate on the reality of welcoming a child into this world.  But
mornings like these I am smacked in the face with the reality that God
continues to create beautiful new life. 
 


This shouldn’t have been
a surprise to me, but the doctor talked about the activity of the baby. 
The heartbeat had lowered about 10 BPM from the previous appointment
to this one, and the doctor said that it might be because he/she is
napping or relaxed.  She talked about babies doing cartwheels and
being physically active at other times (as much as you can, being confined
to that space).  Amazing!  Whether I had consciously formed
this belief or not, I had the impression that the baby just kinda laid
there, not sleeping or moving, just laying passively.  It may be
silly, but when I think of cartwheels I think of laughter and joy, free
from the burdens and stress that so often accompany life in this world. 
I think of wide open fields filled with potential to experience life. 
I think of sunshine and friends.  I think of the music video to
“No Rain,” by Blind Melon (see video below). 
 


I’m sure that “cartwheel”
was a metaphor the doctor used to describe general movement and activity
by the baby, but I am thankful for the imagery.  I am thankful
that, despite such wide-held pessimism about the state of affairs in
the world, it really is a good – created by God – place to be invited
into.  Our joy is in the Lord and the promise that all things are
being made new.  Our outlook is not failure, sadness, or certain
destruction, but springs forth in passionate joy and hope from the knowledge
that Jesus Christ is Lord!  I pray that our baby does a few more
cartwheels today, experiencing already at this time the love of its
parents and community who welcome it with open arms to a good wonderful
life under the Lordship of Christ.  Amazing, and Amen. 



Saturday, February 13, 2010

Hauerwas - Should the Military Exclude Christians from Service?

Military

Seminary quarters pass by at the speed of light, leaving behind lasting symbols and influential authors who helped to shape the symbols.  Fall of 2007 impacted my understanding of evangelism, being heralded by Henri Nouwen and his book The Prodigal Son.  Winter of 2008 was all about understanding worship as the unfolding of God's story through the multiple writings of Dr. Robert Webber.  Fall of 2009 was a time of putting to question ideologies of Scripture, church and society and salvation, with the help of N.T. Wright as a guide in the navigation.  Although we are only five weeks into the quarter, two names have already stood out as taking this place of lasting influence in my education: Stanley Hauerwas and John Howard Yoder. 

Last week I received a copy of Hauerwas' The Hauerwas Reader in the mail, and opened immediately to the Table of Contents.  My eye was quickly drawn to a controversial chapter entitled, "Why Gays (as a Group) Are Morally Superior to Christians (as a Group)."  The piece was an editorial in a newspaper, and therefore was only two pages long.  I have read it a number of times since and have been challenged to acknowledge and confess the passivity of my willingness to submit to the Lordship of Christ over the years, but also to realize that Christian doctrines are not just beliefs but are part of the very story that form our practices.  

Hauerwas states up front that he views it as a "wonderful thing that some people are excluded [from military service] as a group," and that he could "only wish that Christians could be seen by the military to be as problematic as gays."He points out that the restriction on this group of people is due to many factors, one of which is, that by condemning such a group we can then allow ourselves to hide from the confusion of sex in our wider culture.  We create an "illusion of certainty" of what is morally right and what is morally wrong.The article is not as much focused on homosexuals serving in military as it is about the way in which Christians, if they were to be consistent in practicing those things which they claim to believe, would be an additional group excluded from participation in military service.  The reasons for this are:


  1. Pilots would worry about dropping bombs on locations where civilian casualties would occur

  2. Soldiers would insist that war is not about killing but only incapacitating or detaining prisoners (per just war theory)

  3. Soldiers would gather each night, holding hands with heads bowed in prayer.

  4. Soldiers would pray for their enemies

  5. Soldiers would gather for a meal where they claim to eat and drink with God.

  6. Soldiers could not gather for the meal if they have blood on their hands - "People so concerned with sanctity would be a threat to the military."2

  7. They would be no fun as they are compelled to keep promises, fidelity, disprove of sexual license even when facing the danger of battle

  8. Their loyalty is first to God and then to the military commanders



The brief article is both humorous and prophetic.  What would happen if we really enacted these things not only the military, but in our jobs and everyday life?  Refusing to gossip in work.  Being unwilling to lie or manipulate to advance in our jobs.  Setting limits for hours worked each week to spend time with family.  Refusing to buy into consumeristic tendencies to acquire the latest and the greatest.  I think that it would show that not only do Christians not make very good soldiers, but we do not make very good Western capitalists.


Could you really trust people in your unit who think the enemy's life is as valid as their own or their fellow soldier?  Could you trust someone who would think it more important to die than to kill unjustly?  Are these people fit for the military?3

__________
1
Stanley Hauerwas, The Hauerwas Reader (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2001), 519.
2 Ibid., 521.
3 Ibid., 521.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Prayer as Submission to the Lordship of Christ



I currently work at Century
Oaks Elementary School in District U-46 as a Level 1 Computer tech. 
The job gives Jamie and I a little extra cash and still allows
for the work to be done by noon each day.  The district is suffering
greatly though.  They are deeply sunk into the swallows of debt
and are consumed now by debt reduction meetings and strategies. 
Each morning when I enter the school, I hear teachers express fear about
losing their jobs.  They fear losing the established intervention
programs, athletics, and arts which supplement traditional math, science,
and history to provide a worthwhile education.  They fear the unknown of their futures.  Everyone is tense, and sadly, the students
and their parents are affected as well. 
 


The most recent weekly message
from the superintendent included a list of practices to be utilized
in order to cope with the stresses of the budget issues.  After
listing exercise, relaxation, watching TV, and visiting classrooms,
he said that, “I pray.  I meditate. In other words, I alter
my perspective.”  This post is not about the separation of church
and state and it is not a critique of Dr. Torres understanding of prayer
or meditation (nor am I addressing television as a coping mechanism). 
This post is about the way in which prayer, for believers in Jesus
Christ
, is not about altering our perspective of situations, but
submitting them to the Lordship of Christ. 
 


The good news for a prayerful
church is that they, as a community, are defined by a different kingdom
than that of the world.  This kingdom is marked not by efficiency
or power like that of the world, but by growth and submission to God’s
mission in the world.  Programs are not required to grow, but rather
disciples made.  In this way, the exact moves of our future are
not known or seen but are approached with faith, hope, and trust. 
This trust is not in ourselves or our reason, but in the unfailing mission
of God.  Prayer is therefore not, “Help me to see the right answer,”
but, “we submit all our concerns to your will, for your glory.” 
 


Prayer is the place where we
place our whole lives - not just questions to specific situations -
before the One whom we proclaim to be Lord of the cosmos.  This
type of prayer calls for crazy answers.  It calls us to step out
in faith to do things that are not even in our perspective,
but to trust that God’s promises are irrevocable. 
 


Jamie and I are in the middle
of this type of prayer.  We are discerning whether or not to dive
into a missional plant in Westmont, Illinois, where pastoral ministry
would be bi-vocational.  Our plan had previously been to graduate
seminary and transition into professional-pastoral ministry.  There
are many reasons for this, and I’m sure a number of blog posts over
the coming months will address some of the reasons, but Jamie and I
are feeling called to at least submit this future in prayer and community
to the Lord.  The one thing we know is that we cannot make our
decisions out of fear: fear of not finding a job, or fear of what people
think, or fear of failure.  Rather, we submit our decision making
and discernment to prayer and to community, trusting that God’s mission
will not fail.
 


We would appreciate any prayers
from you all as well in this time.  Praying is the easy part; responding
to God’s call requires submitting to the work of the Holy Spirit.   



Yoder and the Believer's Cross

Cross

"This is simply my cross to bear."

This phrase is thrown out all the time in Christian circles.  It might pertain to an illness, or to a crabby co-worker, or maybe even to the loss of a job; anything that seems difficult in this life can be seen as carrying a cross.  But is this the cross that the New Testament speaks to?  John Howard Yoder offers the following:

The believer's cross is no longer any and every kind of suffering, sickness, or tension, the bearing of which is demanded.  The believer's cross is, like that of Jesus, the price of social nonconformity.  It is not, like sickness or catastrophe, an inexplicable, unpredictable suffering; it is the end of a path freely chosen after counting the cost.  It is not, like Luther's or Thomas Muntzer's or Zinzendorf's or Kierkegaard's cross, an inward wrestling of the sensitive soul with self and sin; it is the social reality of representing in an unwilling world the Order to come.1

Talk about some words that will force us to question whether we are really willing to be follower's of Jesus Christ.

__________
1 John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972), 96.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Worship as a Shaping Event

Language is learned over time. 
We learn that new words function as symbols which can more accurately
describe the experience they symbolize.  A child who scrapes his
knee may say, “It hurts.”  An adolescent who scrapes his knee
may say, “It burns.”  But language isn’t just formed from
experiences: language can actually shape our experience. 
 


I have recently encountered
this in my understanding of worship.  For many years I stood on
a soap box and declared that worship is a response.  When we gather
as a community – or sit in isolation as an individual – and respond
to God’s characteristics of love, beauty, redeemer, forgiver, father,
helper, etc., we are moved to respond graciously in submission out of
the overflow of our experience.  This is of course in contrast
to worship which is seen as a “work” to be done or a ritual to partake
in.  It is an authentic response to our status of forgiven. 
Worship, in this sense, is a gift that I give to God when I submit myself
to His glory. 
 


I contend that this understanding
of worship is the product of language formed by experience.  We
feel longing, we feel passion, we feel the need for a divine helper. 
Therefore, when we express these feelings, we have participated in an
event that we have come to know as “worship.”  The problem
with this is that worship becomes dependent upon my feelings. 
When I “feel” a need for God, or passion, or humility, or guilt,
or love, and then respond in song, confession, or silence, then I have
participated in worship.  But what about all those times when I
have no response?  Was I not pious enough to encounter God? 
Was I not open enough to the Spirit?  Was it the bands fault for
not giving me a viable outlet for expression? 
 


Let me suggest that we readjust
our understanding of worship from a response to a formative submission. 
When we gather as a body of believers committed to the redemptive story
of God in history and his continued mission in the world, then the worship
“event” is all about conforming to the story.  Our doctrines
and beliefs about how God has acted in history, Jesus’ death and resurrection,
the Holy Spirit’s work in the world, and our own invitation to the
kingdom of God and his mission, shapes us to be people who are hospitable,
passionate, and humble. 
 


Gathering together before the
Eucharistic table then becomes not about feeling guilt and recognizing
my sin, but acknowledging Jesus Christ as the one who was broken and
given for all-of-the world.  Reconciliation at the Table is not
about having a few tears and giving a shallow word of “I forgive you
(until you hurt me again),” but a deep and robust acknowledgement
of our commitment to die to ourselves and to one another.  Singing,
“your grace is enough,” is not just an individual response to feeling
forgiven, but are the words of truth proclaimed and sung for the world
to hear and be invited into amidst suffering, depression, and disaster.
 


The beliefs and doctrines that
have shaped our worship communities are filled to the brim, through
the Holy Spirit, to shape communities of faith into people who can experience
the world through the language of Jesus Christ and the redemption of
all things.  The language we use in worshiping communities shape
our ability to experience real-life situations through the lens of redemption,
grace, and love. 
 


In a society so driven by power
and control, the language of the worship event as a place of submission
may sound weak or absurd.  But it is this very call that we are
invited into when we proclaim the good news that Jesus Christ was the
long-awaited Messiah, is the One in whom we place our hope, and will
be the One to come again.  Submission to his Lordship - to giving
our allegiance not to Caesar, democracy, or America – is what shapes
us as people open to the Spirit and God’s continual mission in the
world. 
 


Is worship a response? 
Of course.  But even more than that, it defines and shapes who
we are.  Worship defines us as people in submission to the God
of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, whose mysterious plan of redemption for
the world broke-forth in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ
the Messiah.  

Monday, February 8, 2010

Hauerwas Quote

Stanley Hauerwas utters a prophetic word that should shake the passivity and coasting of many of our lives and churches:

As Christians we claim that by conforming our lives in a faithful manner to the stories of God we acquire the moral and intellectual skills, as a community and as individuals, to face the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.  Of course this remains a "claim," for there is no way within history to prove that such a story must be true.  But that does not mean we are without resources for testing such a claim.  The very story people hold directs us to observe the lives of those who live it as a crucial indication of the truth of their convictions.1

___________

1 Stanley Hauerwas, A Community of Character (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), 96.

Humility and Proclamation

Living faithfully to the witness of Jesus Christ in the
world demands becoming people and communities who proclaim.  We are to proclaim the cosmic scope of
salvation and redemption of salvation, healing, reconciliation, and
justice.  We are to proclaim the
story of God from creation, fall, Israel, remnant, Messiah, redemption,
re-creation.  But we are also to
proclaim truths into real-life situations.  This so-often seems to be a messy and unwanted job, but
demands our faithfulness as well.

I am speaking about proclaiming God’s irrevocable gifting
and presence even the midst of a car accident.  I am speaking about proclaiming God’s love and passionate
pursuit in the face of being rejected by family, friends, and church.  I am speaking about proclaiming healing
in the face of death and “game-over.” 
Our proclamation of God’s faithfulness in these situations may appear to
be nothing more than a false hope or opium for the pain.  Our proclamation may appear to be
proven false when another car accident happens, or rejection continues, or
death ensues.  What then?

No question: these situations can be challenging to our
understanding of God as the “good and gracious God” that we had hoped and
longed for.  We think that God has
been defeated, or at minimum, that the person proclaiming was proven to be a
false prophet.

Anyone who writes or speaks about these things has to do so
from a stance of humility.  These
questions are difficult and do not have tangible answers that our scientific
world promises to offer.  But what
we can do is humbly and prayerfully proclaim them as beliefs that shape our
experience.  We become people who
pray for healing, and pray for reconciliation, and pray for wisdom.

We are not left to a new type of blind existentialism
without foundation.  Rather, we
proclaim belief in the God of the cosmos, whose story through all of history is
told as a loving and faithful God in passionate relationship with his
creation.  This is the God who
heals.  This is the God who is
present and incarnate.  This is the
God who offers full reconciliation. 
This is our proclamation, and we should not shy away from proclaiming
“Jesus is Lord,” even in the most disastrous situations.  Yet this is unquestionably done in
humility, where the proclamation of a belief shapes us as people who enact the
proclamations we make.

Oh Lord, have mercy on all who are suffering today.  May we indwell your faithfulness even
when we do not understand.  May we,
in humble boldness, proclaim your faithful and loving character and action for
the entire world.  Amen.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Abortion - Are we ready to offer an alternative?

My wife and I are expecting the birth of our first child in July.  It is a very exciting time as we prepare our home and reshape the order of our lives to invite new life into our family. 


The importance of new life has been much talked about in the past weeks, with much of it revolving around the commercial that will air tomorrow during the Superbowl.  The commercial was created and is sponsored by Focus on the Family and their donors (click here for more information).  Jim Daly, the current President of the organization, says that Focus on the Family has "stood for life for over 33 years."  He then goes on to remark about the number of lives that have been lost due to abortion over the years.


I obviously have not seen the ad yet, but am fairly certain that the arguments employed against abortion will be the following:



  1. It is murder of innocent life

  2. Everyone has a right to life

  3. Life is sacred

  4. This sacred life begins at the earliest stages of development

  5. The effects on the mother are overwhelming



This is the way that the "pro-life" political position has been argued for over the years.  Are these key terms - rights, stages, effects - the platforms of our Christian witness to stand on when testifying to an alternative way of life that is welcoming, hospitable, caring, and loving?


Stanley Hauerwas addresses the issue of abortion from a different perspective.  He begins by shattering the politically-liberal perception that, "the law is our way of negotiating safe agreements between autonomous individuals who have nothing else in common other than their fear of death and their mutual desire for protection."1  Christians who have been baptized into new life in Christ cannot claim the same political language of "autonomous self" or "individual rights," but rather, "we become members of one another; then we can tell one another what it is that we should and should not do with our bodies."2 


The third and the fourth point go hand in hand.  Science has been our authoritative source to figure out when exactly life begins, because if we can pinpoint this, then we can know when the egg and sperm actually constitute "sacred life."  The problem with this as an argument is that the Christian witness has never been one to argue about the sacredness of life.  Our history proclaims with boldness a willingness to die for the belief in Jesus Christ as the Messiah for the world.  We applaud the hero who is willing to die for a cause.  In response, Hauerwas states that, "In contrast [to arguments of "when life begins" and the inherent "sacredness of life"], the Christian approach is not one of deciding when life has begun, but hoping that it is has."3  We need to be asking why we have allowed the political language of the metanarrative of science to dictate our rationality for grieving our inability to welcome new life into our communities.  Life is, within the Christian narrative, a gift of a gracious God.


Rather than standing in positions of violence against one another as either pro-life or pro-choice, the church needs to step up as an alternative community asking how we can be a community that welcomes new life.  "The crucial question for us as Christians is what kind of people we need to be to be capable of welcoming children into this world, some of whom may be born disabled and even die."4  If the church actually did this, then the arguments of Focus on the Family and Tim Tebow might actually make sense.  But how can we claim that mothers are guilty of breaking an ethical categorial imperative when we do not foster the types of communities that give an alternative? 

Jamie and I have been blessed to be surrounded by family, friends, and church community that makes the possibility of abortion an utter-impossibility.  But my heart aches for all those women who have been victims of power and oppression, whether that be societal, physical, verbal, or political.  This stance on abortion is unsatisfactory to many on either side of the political argument because it resists the temptation to use the same language and live by the same rules.  I pray that witness to the redemption and peace and love of God in Christ Jesus is extended to these women who see no alternatives.


I close with the following from Hauerwas:

Intervention in an abortion clinic context is so humanly painful that I'm not sure what kind of witness Chrisitans make there.  But if we go to a rescue, one of the things that I think we ought to be ready to say to a woman considering an abortion is, "Will you come hom and live with me until you have your child?  And, if you want me to raise the child, I will."  I think that that kind of witness would make a very powerful statement.  The homes are good, but also I think that Christians should be the kind of people who can open our homes to a mother and her child.5



______________
1
Stanley Hauerwas, The Hauerwas Reader (London: Duke University Press, 2001), 608.
2
Ibid., 609.
3
Ibid., 614-615.
4
Ibid., 619.
5
Ibid., 620-621.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Hello world!

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I have just finished the data migration from the former Blogger website to its new home here at Typepad.  I welcome you to the new blog, and am excited to begin writing and dialoging here.  Blessings to you all.

Justification and Sanctification - Separate, or Not?

A traditional understanding of the relationship between justification and sanctification is one of separation. Within the classical Lutheran understanding (which has greatly influenced many non-denominational evangelicals) these two must be separated. One cannot partake in any sanctifying act(s) as co-joined with justification, for then a work would be involved, but rather as a result of being considered justified (in the forensic sense), one than proceeds to embark on the path of sanctification. Clearly, in this understanding, justification precedes sanctification.


Pastors are concerned about this process of sanctification all the time. After someone comes to "know Christ," (justified – in this sense) and finds grace through faith, they are supposed to embark on a process of bearing fruit and growing in holiness. But pastors are aware that many times this "fruit" is not the effected result of the decision. Unfortunately, understanding salvation as justification by grace through faith as a free gift – not by works – while proclaiming a propositionally true theological concept, finds itself imprisoned within a consumeristic society bent on acquiring the best goods at the cheapest prices: salvation on sale, a one time event, a product to be used and disposed of.


John Howard Yoder, an Anabaptist theologian with an ecumenical approach to theology, says that "evangelism is an invitation to discipleship." When discipleship is not present, the good news has not been proclaimed. Justification and sanctification cannot be separated so easily. Praying the sinner's prayer and believing in some propositional truths about humanity, sin, Jesus, and eternal destinations cannot be separated from the new life offered in Jesus Christ.


Jesus was not afraid to tell people that following him would not be easy. In fact, it would require them to leave their families, their wealth, their possessions, and even their desires. But in doing so the good news of the kingdom of God would become a reality.


Salvation is not cheap. In fact, it calls us to die to those things that enslave us. And it is not simple enough to say that sanctification here means giving up drugs, or alcohol, or sex, or lies. Sanctification and the call to participation in the renewed kingdom actually refers to dying to the desires for selfish gain, idolatry, power, status, and control.


Luther's theology was formed within a society that needed to hear that justification was separated from works. It was not something that could be earned by performing mass, purchasing indulgences, or doing penance. Rather, salvation is the free gift of God for humanity. Luther's revelation of this gift had to be preached and preached passionately.


Our context has changed. We live in a world addicted to the free and the easy and the disposable; a world where "no strings are attached" is the sign of a good economic-transaction. The separation of justification from sanctification can continue to fuel this type of transactional salvation. Justification being required: sanctification being optional.


We should not be watering down the call to discipleship and the reality of the Good News of Jesus Christ simply so that we can count more people as "saved" and feel good about our churches programs of evangelism. We should be embodying renewed lives so brightly in our communities that the good news is not just talked about but revealed in our hospitality, our passion, and our humility. These are not just optional by-products (sanctification) of a clearance rack (justification), but rather are commitments of those who have found the redemptive message of Jesus Christ as a lived-in-reality.

Awake, My Soul!

Psalm 57:7-11

My heart is steadfast, O God,

my heart is steadfast.
I will sing and make melody.
Awake, my soul!
Awake, O harp and lyre!
I will awake the dawn.
I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.
For your steadfast love is as high as the heavens;
your faithfulness extends to the clouds.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens.
Let your glory be over all the earth.


I have made too many excuses in my life. Most recently I have complained that I live in a neighborhood without missional hopes. There appear to be no "third places" where people in this neighborhood spend their time (whether that's a bar, a coffee shop, a diner, etc.). It is winter and people stay inside. I am busy. People don't want to talk. I don't speak Spanish.

So many excuses to avoid living out what I so readily preach.


I was challenged last night in a class to awaken the imagination and open my eyes to the ways in which God is already at work in our lives and the lives of our neighbors. It is not something that we are creating, but rather something that we are open towards joining with God in. Dr. Fitch described the way in which he walks through his neighborhood as a rhythm of life, and through this simple act, the way in which impromptu meetings arise naturally with neighbors.


Two of our neighbors have shown generous acts of kindness toward our community. They are not the closed-in-hermits that I oh-so-badly (subconsciously) want them to be, because if they were, then I would have an excuse for not intertwining our lives together. But the truth is that they have acted more Christian(ly) towards us than we have towards them.


I don't know what this will look like in the next six or seven months. I am praying that our community will sing praises among the nations (or at least the neighborhood).


So yes, I am in agreement with the Psalmist this morning in the beckoning for my soul to awake to sing praise and make music and exalt the Lord in our lives. To awaken the dawn to a new day, a glorious day, a day of redemption and peace.


Justification and Sanctification - Separate, or Not?

A traditional understanding of the relationship between justification and sanctification is one of separation. Within the classical Lutheran understanding (which has greatly influenced many non-denominational evangelicals) these two must be separated. One cannot partake in any sanctifying act(s) as co-joined with justification, for then a work would be involved, but rather as a result of being considered justified (in the forensic sense), one than proceeds to embark on the path of sanctification. Clearly, in this understanding, justification precedes sanctification.


Pastors are concerned about this process of sanctification all the time. After someone comes to "know Christ," (justified – in this sense) and finds grace through faith, they are supposed to embark on a process of bearing fruit and growing in holiness. But pastors are aware that many times this "fruit" is not the effected result of the decision. Unfortunately, understanding salvation as justification by grace through faith as a free gift – not by works – while proclaiming a propositionally true theological concept, finds itself imprisoned within a consumeristic society bent on acquiring the best goods at the cheapest prices: salvation on sale, a one time event, a product to be used and disposed of.


John Howard Yoder, an Anabaptist theologian with an ecumenical approach to theology, says that "evangelism is an invitation to discipleship." When discipleship is not present, the good news has not been proclaimed. Justification and sanctification cannot be separated so easily. Praying the sinner's prayer and believing in some propositional truths about humanity, sin, Jesus, and eternal destinations cannot be separated from the new life offered in Jesus Christ.


Jesus was not afraid to tell people that following him would not be easy. In fact, it would require them to leave their families, their wealth, their possessions, and even their desires. But in doing so the good news of the kingdom of God would become a reality.


Salvation is not cheap. In fact, it calls us to die to those things that enslave us. And it is not simple enough to say that sanctification here means giving up drugs, or alcohol, or sex, or lies. Sanctification and the call to participation in the renewed kingdom actually refers to dying to the desires for selfish gain, idolatry, power, status, and control.

Galatians 5:22-26
22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.



Luther's theology was formed within a society that needed to hear that justification was separated from works. It was not something that could be earned by performing mass, purchasing indulgences, or doing penance. Rather, salvation is the free gift of God for humanity. Luther's revelation of this gift had to be preached and preached passionately.



Our context has changed. We live in a world addicted to the free and the easy and the disposable; a world where "no strings are attached" is the sign of a good economic-transaction. The separation of justification from sanctification can continue to fuel this type of transactional salvation. Justification being required: sanctification being optional.



We should not be watering down the call to discipleship and the reality of the Good News of Jesus Christ simply so that we can count more people as "saved" and feel good about our churches programs of evangelism. We should be embodying renewed lives so brightly in our communities that the good news is not just talked about but revealed in our hospitality, our passion, and our humility. These are not just optional by-products (sanctification) of a clearance rack (justification), but rather are commitments of those who have found the redemptive message of Jesus Christ as a lived-in-reality.

Awake, My Soul!

Psalm 57:7-11
My heart is steadfast, O God,
my heart is steadfast. I will sing and make melody. Awake, my soul! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn. I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. For your steadfast love is as high as the heavens; your faithfulness extends to the clouds. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens. Let your glory be over all the earth. 




I have made too many excuses in my life. Most recently I have complained that I live in a neighborhood without missional hopes. There appear to be no "third places" where people in this neighborhood spend their time (whether that's a bar, a coffee shop, a diner, etc.). It is winter and people stay inside. I am busy. People don't want to talk. I don't speak Spanish.

So many excuses to avoid living out what I so readily preach.



I was challenged last night in a class to awaken the imagination and open my eyes to the ways in which God is already at work in our lives and the lives of our neighbors. It is not something that we are creating, but rather something that we are open towards joining with God in. Dr. Fitch described the way in which he walks through his neighborhood as a rhythm of life, and through this simple act, the way in which impromptu meetings arise naturally with neighbors.



Two of our neighbors have shown generous acts of kindness toward our community. They are not the closed-in-hermits that I oh-so-badly (subconsciously) want them to be, because if they were, then I would have an excuse for not intertwining our lives together. But the truth is that they have acted more Christian(ly) towards us than we have towards them.



I don't know what this will look like in the next six or seven months. I am praying that our community will sing praises among the nations (or at least the neighborhood).


So yes, I am in agreement with the Psalmist this morning in the beckoning for my soul to awake to sing praise and make music and exalt the Lord in our lives. To awaken the dawn to a new day, a glorious day, a day of redemption and peace.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Can Living on a College Campus Replace Witness in a Local Church?


Does living on a Christian College campus replace life together in a local church community? The answer to this question was often just assumed to be positive when I was a student at Judson College. Our needs of worship and community were being met by the regular gatherings in chapel and Upper Room (praise and prayer) and by living together in a dorm setting. If one was liberal enough, then he or she may also see the church as an agent of social action in the world. He or she could then volunteer to help with a children's ministry program in an under resourced neighborhood of Elgin (Clifford Court). These three areas – worship, community, service – were the markers of church that so many had grown up to believe in: therefore, going to a church service on a Sunday morning was then seen as nothing more than an extra work (or more usually, the result of a guilty conscience). To be fair, there were a number of students - or maybe even a majority – whose absence from a local church was not the result of theological motives, but of sheer laziness or stress.


The strikingly obvious problem with this mentality is that "church" becomes about "our needs" and "receiving a product," rather than living as an alternative kingdom under the Lordship of Christ with a passionate and humble heart turned towards the lost, the broken, and the oppressed. When the understanding of "worship" becomes equated with "having an experience with God," or a time where I "feel close to God," then we have lost the sense of worship as a formative event around the saving story of God throughout history. Instead, we become consumers, aching for our next fix of "getting a little more Jesus in our lives."


While a number of programs created and maintained in a college setting may seem to be friendly towards community (bible studies, meals in the cafeteria, late nights in dorm rooms), they are left crippled by their unavoidable makeup of like-people. People on these college campuses are generally affluent, middle-class, similar in age, and similar in thought (of course there are exceptions to all of these stereotypes, but for the most past, this was my own experience). Certainly this type of communal living has advantages over much of suburban isolation. Students are able to fluently move in and out of one another's rooms, share material goods, and be available to one another at a moments notice. But we cannot deny that something is missing when this type of sharing is constrained to like-minded people gathered for like-minded purposes.


Finally, while acts of social action and volunteerism are good things, they are missing a vital aspect of witness when they cannot invite others in. Local church congregations should already be acting as light in the darkest places. I know specifically that, here in Elgin, the local churches have a clear mission towards reaching the lost and under-privileged. And the advantage is not that these actions are done because of a natural moral imperative, but because the gathered community of church has been commissioned to be salt and light to the nations. By standing out as a community with an uncompromising passion for the world, the church's witness to the world is not just in words but in holistic proclamation of our new life in the kingdom of God. College social service programs are great one-time events, but they cannot invite those they minister the gospel to into new life under Jesus' lordship.


Individualism has so plagued our understanding of salvation and ecclesiology that we are left pummeled with self-gratifying and self-seeking worship, community, and even service. It has become an acceptable claim to say that, "I get what I need out of worship, community, and service – and this is enough," while we miss out on the commission of our story to be a city on hill (Matthew 5).


Too many people see college students as a "lost group." It is the age of questioning authority and developing autonomy. Statistics are published every week reporting that the majority of people lose their faith during these years. However, it can also a beautiful time to re-discover the power of the Spirit present in a gathered diverse community, to be shaped by the worship event and story of God for the purpose of proclamation of and invitation into new life in the kingdom of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Can Living on a College Campus Replace Witness in a Local Church?


Does living on a Christian College campus replace life together in a local church community? The answer to this question was often just assumed to be positive when I was a student at Judson College. Our needs of worship and community were being met by the regular gatherings in chapel and Upper Room (praise and prayer) and by living together in a dorm setting. If one was liberal enough, then he or she may also see the church as an agent of social action in the world. He or she could then volunteer to help with a children's ministry program in an under resourced neighborhood of Elgin (Clifford Court). These three areas – worship, community, service – were the markers of church that so many had grown up to believe in: therefore, going to a church service on a Sunday morning was then seen as nothing more than an extra work (or more usually, the result of a guilty conscience). To be fair, there were a number of students - or maybe even a majority – whose absence from a local church was not the result of theological motives, but of sheer laziness or stress.



The strikingly obvious problem with this mentality is that "church" becomes about "our needs" and "receiving a product," rather than living as an alternative kingdom under the Lordship of Christ with a passionate and humble heart turned towards the lost, the broken, and the oppressed. When the understanding of "worship" becomes equated with "having an experience with God," or a time where I "feel close to God," then we have lost the sense of worship as a formative event around the saving story of God throughout history. Instead, we become consumers, aching for our next fix of "getting a little more Jesus in our lives."



While a number of programs created and maintained in a college setting may seem to be friendly towards community (bible studies, meals in the cafeteria, late nights in dorm rooms), they are left crippled by their unavoidable makeup of like-people. People on these college campuses are generally affluent, middle-class, similar in age, and similar in thought (of course there are exceptions to all of these stereotypes, but for the most past, this was my own experience). Certainly this type of communal living has advantages over much of suburban isolation. Students are able to fluently move in and out of one another's rooms, share material goods, and be available to one another at a moments notice. But we cannot deny that something is missing when this type of sharing is constrained to like-minded people gathered for like-minded purposes.



Finally, while acts of social action and volunteerism are good things, they are missing a vital aspect of witness when they cannot invite others in. Local church congregations should already be acting as light in the darkest places. I know specifically that, here in Elgin, the local churches have a clear mission towards reaching the lost and under-privileged. And the advantage is not that these actions are done because of a natural moral imperative, but because the gathered community of church has been commissioned to be salt and light to the nations. By standing out as a community with an uncompromising passion for the world, the church's witness to the world is not just in words but in holistic proclamation of our new life in the kingdom of God. College social service programs are great one-time events, but they cannot invite those they minister the gospel to into new life under Jesus' lordship.




Individualism has so plagued our understanding of salvation and ecclesiology that we are left pummeled with self-gratifying and self-seeking worship, community, and even service. It has become an acceptable claim to say that, "I get what I need out of worship, community, and service – and this is enough," while we miss out on the commission of our story to be a city on hill (Matthew 5).



Too many people see college students as a "lost group." It is the age of questioning authority and developing autonomy. Statistics are published every week reporting that the majority of people lose their faith during these years. However, it can also a beautiful time to re-discover the power of the Spirit present in a gathered diverse community, to be shaped by the worship event and story of God for the purpose of proclamation of and invitation into new life in the kingdom of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Monday, February 1, 2010

An Example of Contextualized Language

Coursework and reading over the past few weeks has sparked an interest in the contextualization of language. My whole life I had just assumed that language existed as one-to-one correspondence. Speaking about a "cup" means I am speaking about a universal and objective item that has come to be known as "cup." "Cup" is the objectively true term used to describe the object that I fill with coffee and drink out of each day. At least I thought…


Jean-Jacques Rousseau suggests that language is actually a "contingent evil," which corrupts a pure and unmediated experience of the world simply as it is. According to this epistemological framework (dominant in most modern culture and most modern churches), language hinders us from speaking truthfully about the experiences of the "really-real." Deconstructionist philosophers like Jacques Derrida have revealed the myths underlying this assumption. The scientific ideal of objectivity – universally available to all people, at all times, in all situations – is viewed to stand naked with an unwillingness to confess the interpretive framework that its very foundation is built upon.


Most of this is very heady stuff, but I experienced an example of the breakdown of language this morning at the elementary school (children, of course, provide analogies all the time for studies in language and behavior). A young kindergarten student was quietly working away at his computer with a program that develops an understanding of the ABC's. He seemed to be grasping the material well and enjoying the experience of learning on a computer. Suddenly he raised his hand and said, "I'm bored." I understood boredom to be a universal-principle for feeling as if we've had enough of something, sensing that it can no longer be beneficial to our engagement. I grabbed the mouse and returned to the home screen so that he could choose a different and hopefully more instructive program.


The teacher in the classroom saw all this happen and pulled me to the side. She mentioned that when Jimmy (not his real name) says he is "bored," he typically does not understand the material and wants to dismiss the feeling of fear. Jimmy and I had a different understanding of the word "bored," which therefore led to breakdown in communication. Neither of us were wrong in a universal-objective way. However, the context in which we live and the agreed upon language that we have accepted would answer that Jimmy has not yet equated the symbol of "bored," with the feeling of tired and frustrated with the lack of activity or challenge.


Communication really is a miracle. It is especially a miracle in the western paradigm of objective reality where language is expected to address realities existent beyond the spoken language. Deconstructionists and their understanding of the interpretation of all texts lead us humbly into communication with one another. It forces us to not "assume" that we know what the other means and it remains open to new ways of communication through story and narrative.


For Christians, this is how we should be treating the Word of God as an authoritative text. We do not search it in hopes of "getting beyond" the genres of narrative to get at what it is really trying to say. We do not use it as a book of facts or even of moral imperatives. Rather, we are invited like the New Testament authors themselves to allow the story of God to become our own. We are invited to experience hope, love, compassion, grief, passion, and concern. We do not live as people continually looking backward, though our history forms us, but rather we look to how we are now in the present people of that same kingdom of God under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. This requires humility and a trust in the Holy Spirit to guide and direct her church in and for the world.

An Example of Contextualized Language

Coursework and reading over the past few weeks has sparked an interest in the contextualization of language. My whole life I had just assumed that language existed as one-to-one correspondence. Speaking about a "cup" means I am speaking about a universal and objective item that has come to be known as "cup." "Cup" is the objectively true term used to describe the object that I fill with coffee and drink out of each day. At least I thought…



Jean-Jacques Rousseau suggests that language is actually a "contingent evil," which corrupts a pure and unmediated experience of the world simply as it is. According to this epistemological framework (dominant in most modern culture and most modern churches), language hinders us from speaking truthfully about the experiences of the "really-real." Deconstructionist philosophers like Jacques Derrida have revealed the myths underlying this assumption. The scientific ideal of objectivity – universally available to all people, at all times, in all situations – is viewed to stand naked with an unwillingness to confess the interpretive framework that its very foundation is built upon.



Most of this is very heady stuff, but I experienced an example of the breakdown of language this morning at the elementary school (children, of course, provide analogies all the time for studies in language and behavior). A young kindergarten student was quietly working away at his computer with a program that develops an understanding of the ABC's. He seemed to be grasping the material well and enjoying the experience of learning on a computer. Suddenly he raised his hand and said, "I'm bored." I understood boredom to be a universal-principle for feeling as if we've had enough of something, sensing that it can no longer be beneficial to our engagement. I grabbed the mouse and returned to the home screen so that he could choose a different and hopefully more instructive program.



The teacher in the classroom saw all this happen and pulled me to the side. She mentioned that when Jimmy (not his real name) says he is "bored," he typically does not understand the material and wants to dismiss the feeling of fear. Jimmy and I had a different understanding of the word "bored," which therefore led to breakdown in communication. Neither of us were wrong in a universal-objective way. However, the context in which we live and the agreed upon language that we have accepted would answer that Jimmy has not yet equated the symbol of "bored," with the feeling of tired and frustrated with the lack of activity or challenge.



Communication really is a miracle. It is especially a miracle in the western paradigm of objective reality where language is expected to address realities existent beyond the spoken language. Deconstructionists and their understanding of the interpretation of all texts lead us humbly into communication with one another. It forces us to not "assume" that we know what the other means and it remains open to new ways of communication through story and narrative.



For Christians, this is how we should be treating the Word of God as an authoritative text. We do not search it in hopes of "getting beyond" the genres of narrative to get at what it is really trying to say. We do not use it as a book of facts or even of moral imperatives. Rather, we are invited like the New Testament authors themselves to allow the story of God to become our own. We are invited to experience hope, love, compassion, grief, passion, and concern. We do not live as people continually looking backward, though our history forms us, but rather we look to how we are now in the present people of that same kingdom of God under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. This requires humility and a trust in the Holy Spirit to guide and direct her church in and for the world.