"For now we see as if through a flawed pane of glass..." (I Corinthians 13:12)

Thursday, December 28, 2017

My Most Important Recent Read


Gregory Boyd has run the spiritual gamut: from Roman Catholic to atheist to Pentecostal to orthodox Christianity. His theological education includes Yale and Princeton.
Currently, Boyd is Senior Pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota and is one of the leading spokesmen in the growing Neo-Anabaptism[1] movement, which is based in the tradition of Anabaptism and advocates Christian pacifism and a non-violent understanding of God.
Boyd has also long been known as a leading advocate of open theism.[2] In addition, he is a noted Christian anarchist and is known for his writings on the relationship between Christianity and politics, including his best-selling book The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church. The book was written after the New York Times published a front-page cover article on Boyd's criticism of the Christian right.[3] In 2010, Boyd was listed as one of the twenty most influential living Christian scholars.
The excerpt that follows is perhaps the most important few paragraphs I’ve read in a long, long time! It comprises the last few pages of the third chapter of Boyd’s book, The Myth of a Christian Nation. Aside from some deletions (indicated) it is presented verbatim.[4]

CONSERVATIVES AND LIBERALS WITHIN THE SAME KINGDOM 
Jesus would simply not allow the world to set the terms of his engagement with the world. This explains how (and perhaps why) he could call Matthew, a tax collector, as well as Simon, a zealot, to be his disciples (Matt. 10:3 – 4). Tax collectors were on the farthest right wing of Jewish politics, zealots on the farthest left wing. To compare them to, say, Ralph Nader and Rush Limbaugh wouldn’t come close. In fact, historical records indicate that the zealots despised tax collectors even more than they despised the Romans, for tax collectors not only paid taxes to support the Roman government (something zealots deplored), but they actually made their living collecting taxes from other Jews on Rome’s behalf . Even worse, tax collectors often enhanced their income by charging more than was due and keeping the difference. For this reason, zealots sometimes assassinated tax collectors! 
Yet Matthew and Simon spent three years together ministering alongside Jesus. No doubt they had some interesting fireside chats about politics. But what is positively amazing is that they ministered together with Jesus to advance the kingdom of God. Just as interesting, we never find a word in the Gospels about their different political opinions. Indeed, we never read a word about what Jesus thought about their radically different kingdom-of-the-world views. 
What this silence suggests is that, in following Jesus, Matthew and Simon had something in common that dwarfed their individual political differences in significance, as extreme as these differences were. This silence points to the all-important distinctness of the kingdom of God from every version of the kingdom of the world. To be sure, Jesus’ life and teachings would undoubtedly transform the trust both had in their political views if they would allow it. At the very least, as the reign of God took hold in their lives, the tax collector would no longer cheat his clients and the zealot no longer kill his opponents. Yet Jesus invited them both to follow him as they were, prior to their transformation, and their widely divergent political views were never a point of contention with Jesus [emphasis mine]. 
What are we to make, then, of the fact that the evangelical church is largely divided along political lines? The Christian position is declared to be Matthew’s among conservatives, Simon’s among liberals. While Jesus never sided with any of the limited and divisive kingdom-of-the-world options routinely set before him, the church today, by and large, swallows them hook, line, and sinker. Indeed, in some circles, whether conservative or liberal, taking particular public stands on social, ethical, and political issues, and siding with particular political or social ideologies, is the litmus test of one’s orthodoxy. In many quarters, individuals and groups with different opinions about which version of the kingdom of the world is best don’t have friendly fireside chats. If they communicate at all, it’s shouting across picket lines![5] 
What this suggests is that the church has been co-opted by the world. To a large degree, we’ve lost our distinct kingdom-of-God vision and abandoned our mission. We’ve allowed the world to define us, set our agenda, and define the terms of our engagement with it. We’ve accepted the limited and divisive kingdom-of-the-world options and therefore mirror the kingdom-of-the-world conflicts. Because of this, we have not sought wisdom from above (James 3:17), the wisdom Jesus consistently displayed that would help us discern a unique kingdom-of-God approach to issues to empower our moving beyond the stalemates and tit-for-tat conflicts that characterize the kingdom of the world. Instead, we’ve made these conflicts our own as we fight with each other over “the Christian” option.
We have lost the simplicity of the kingdom of God and have largely forsaken the difficult challenge of living out the kingdom. We have forgotten, if ever we were taught, the simple principle that the kingdom of God looks like Jesus and that our sole task as kingdom people is to mimic the love he revealed on Calvary. We have to a large degree gone AWOL on the kingdom of God, allowing it to be reduced to a religious version of the world. The world supplies the options, and in direct contradiction to Jesus’ example, we think it’s our job to pronounce which one God thinks is right.

A DIFFICULT SIMPLICITY 
Our central job is not to solve the world’s problems. Our job is to draw our entire life from Christ and manifest that life to others. Nothing could be simpler—and nothing could be more challenging. Perhaps this partly explains why we have allowed ourselves to be so thoroughly co-opted by the world. It’s hard to communicate to a prostitute her unsurpassable worth by taking up a cross for her, serving her for years, gradually changing her on the inside, and slowly winning the trust to speak into her life (and letting her speak into our life, for we too are sinners). Indeed, this sort of Calvary-like love requires one to die to self. 
It is much easier, and more gratifying, to assume a morally superior stance and feel good about doing our Christian duty to vote against “the sin of prostitution” [emphasis mine].
Perhaps this explains why many evangelicals spend more time fighting against certain sinners in the political arena than they do sacrificing for those sinners. But Jesus calls us and empowers us to follow his example by taking the more difficult, less obvious, much slower, and more painful road—the Calvary road. It is the road of self-sacrificial love. 
When we adopt this distinct kingdom-of-God stance, everything changes. While living in the kingdom of the world, of course, we still wrestle with tax and inheritance issues. And we should do so as decently and as effectively as possible. But our unique calling as kingdom people is not to come up with God’s opinion of the right solution to these issues. Our unique calling is simply to replicate Christ’s sacrificial love in service to the world.
When we return to the simplicity and difficulty of the kingdom of God, the question that defines us is no longer, “What are the Christian policies and candidates?” No, when love is placed above all kingdom-of-the-world concerns (Col. 3:14; 1 Peter 4:8), the kingdom-of-the-world options placed before us dwindle in significance—as much as Matthew’s and Simon’s fireside opinions were dwarfed in significance by their common allegiance to Jesus. For we, like Matthew and Simon know that the one question we are commanded to wrestle with is this: “How do we love like Christ loves?” Or to ask the same question in different ways: “How do we communicate to others the unsurpassable worth they have before God? How can we individually and collectively serve in this particular context? How can we ‘come under’ people here and now? How can we demonstrate Calvary love to every person?” The revolution Jesus came to bring was “a genuinely human one,” as Andre Trocme notes. “People, not principles, were his concern.”[6]
We need not be able to figure out how society should tax its citizens, enforce inheritance laws, or deal with prostitutes. Neither Jesus, nor Paul, nor any New Testament author gave inspired pronouncements about such matters. But that does not prevent us from washing the feet of overly taxed citizens, disgruntled younger brothers, and despised prostitutes. Jesus and the New Testament authors gave plenty of inspired pronouncements about that.


[1] Kevin de Young identifies “the low church, counter-cultural, prophetic-stance-against-empire ethos present in the emergent and evangelical-left conversations (as) a contemporary form of the Anabaptist tradition. [https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/neo-anabaptists/]
[2] Open Theism is the thesis that, because God loves us and desires that we freely choose to reciprocate His love, He has made His knowledge of, and plans for, the future conditional upon our actions. Though omniscient, God does not know what we will freely do in the future. [http://www.iep.utm.edu/o-theism/]
[3] Goodstein, Laurie (July 30, 2006). "Disowning Conservative Politics, Evangelical Pastor Rattles Flock". The New York Times.
[4] Boyd, Gregory A.. The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church (pp. 62-65). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
[5] Eller’s comment is relevant: “A prime characteristic of worldly politics is its invariable framing of itself as an ‘adversarial contest.’ There has to be a battle. One party, ideology, cause, group, lobby, or power bloc which has designated itself as ‘the Good, the True, and the Beautiful’ sets out to overbear, overwhelm, overcome, overpower, or otherwise impose itself on whatever opposing parties think they deserve the title.” And it is “a power contest among the morally pretentious.” [Vernard Eller, Christian Anarchy: Jesus’ Primacy over the Powers (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1987).]

[6] Andre Trocme , Jesus and the Non - Violent Revolution (Farmington, Penn.: The Bruderhof Foundation , 2004 ), p. 132.

Monday, October 16, 2017

To Consider Unity



Are you sick of the belligerence that increasingly characterizes our culture and our way of living and relating? I am. Sadly, there are some who seem to relish the antagonism, and actually to delight in provoking it (“Let’s you and him fight!”).
Sometimes I lose hope of seeing humanity united and cooperating; of seeing people of different persuasions coming together to glean the best from each of their different outlooks, and creating a new reality better than their previously held dogmas.
In recent efforts to understand the roots of the current animosity, I looked to my own discipline: Christian theology and church history. Beginning with Augustine in the 4th century, mainstream Christianity took a discernable turn toward law over grace.
That happens in virtually every movement, religious or otherwise. As entrepreneurial founders begin to age, they tend to become caretakers and defenders of their accomplishments. Thus, begins the paradigm shift from movement to institution.
Each succeeding generation adds to the growing set of rules and procedural codes (as in the Constitution of the United States with its amendments and expanding volumes of interpretive laws and codices).
In the Judaism described in the Bible, the trend reached its zenith in the pharisaism Jesus confronted. In Christian history the penchant for rules over grace maxed out under John Calvin and, later in England, the Puritans.
Oppressed in Europe, the Puritans came to America, and were the dominant socio/religious force in colonial America. Most Christian sects in America reflected the harshness of Puritanism, well into the middle of the twentieth century. During the infamously rebellious 1960s, a secularized[1][1] form of Christianity emerged. It rejected the harsh, judgmental, punitive images of God, in favor of a more Christ-like image.
That “more secularized” movement culminated in the last couple of decades into what some have called the “Emerging Church.” In response, the Calvinist/Puritan-oriented bodies doubled down own their insistence that their image of God, and only their image, was the truth, declaring open season on any who disagreed.
The trouble was, each denomination and sect claimed its own set of rules that defined truth; so, everybody was fighting with everybody, and the “spiritually yearning, institutionally disillusioned public”[2] was leaving the church. In the panic over the loss of members (and offerings), the institutional church ramped up its condemnatory rhetoric, which, in turn, drove still more members and offerings into the streets.
Essentially, the Calvinist/Puritan inflexibility was less about seeking truth, and more about proving that I/We already have the truth. The church generally was seen as issuing an ultimatum; and people (particularly those in the millennial generations) stereotyped all churches as judgmental and unforgiving, and they fled en masse from the model in which they were unable to sense the presence of Jesus.
I developed an hypothesis: Given that through the middle of the twentieth century, American culture generally was molded by some expression of Christianity, and given the generally judgmental and hostile stereotype into which all churches were lumped, it seemed reasonable that the current cultural and political fractiousness were in that mix, somewhere. I still believe there is a level in which that hypothesis is valid.
But the pre-Augustinian church already was divided. Paul’s epistles often address congregational division. Some creeds (the Apostles’ Creed and the Creed of Nicaea) emerged prior to the time of Augustine.
In colonial America the political divisiveness already was so bitter that duels to the death were fought.
So, the search for the origins of our current socio/political enmity is like peeling an onion. For the present, I lean toward considering it to be the nature of broken humanity. Maybe it’s not only what we have become. Maybe humans always have been like this; and we are living out our brokenness, rather than living out Jesus' prayer that his followers would become one, as he and his heavenly father were one (John 17:20-21).
Hard sins linked to sexual immorality or religious heresy notwithstanding, could it be that our primary need for repentance is from the primordial state of human brokenness out of which all other brokenness arises? Are we tinkering with symptoms and ignoring the cause?
Repentance does not require regret or remorse; nor does it necessarily involve penitence or penance. The word means, simply, to turn; essentially, to turn from one way of doing and being to another.
I try to not obsess over things I cannot control. Occasionally I even succeed! I don’t know how to influence the general turn of ideologies toward “us all becoming one.” But I can control how I respond; and I perhaps can influence one or a few persons to consider unity over division. That outlook forms the basis of my own repentance in regard to the focus of this writing.
How about this: evil always needs to be confronted; but, before we mount our white horse and charge into the fray, could we take a bit of time, first, to set aside the temptation to blame everyone but ourselves for the way things are, and to engage, instead, in some tangible act intended to make the world better, if only for a moment; if only for one other person?
If we could start each day planning to act or participate proactively in some constructive activity, before turning to the headlines or (worse) Facebook tirades or Twitter harangues, would a constructive outlook lead to a more effective way of responding to those who disagree with us? It’s at least an attempt to be a part of the solution, rather than the problem.
What is there to lose? Is our current culture of denunciation and vilification leading toward a better world?
That’s the way it looks through the Flawed Glass that is my world view.
Together in the walk,
Jim


[1] Secular, not in rejection of God, Scripture or Christianity, but rather, in rejection of what was deemed a distortion of God, Scripture and Christianity. In other words, a rejection of the institutionalization of Christianity.

[2] A description coined by Thomas G. Bandy in Christian Chaos and other of his writings.


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Is an Agreeable Disagreement Possible?


I’ve had enough of the uproar over NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem. If it were going somewhere—if there were a beneficial conclusion in sight—if anybody had anything new or different to say about it, I might have a different perspective. I’m just tired of the endless repetition of talking points devoid of any productive movement toward resolution.

September 25, on Monday Night Football, the Dallas Cowboys, their owner and their coaches, walked to the center of the field, arms linked, and knelt for a few seconds before the anthem was played, and they were soundly booed; which suggests the ballyhoo really may not be about disrespecting the anthem at all.

A man of color protested the ways some people of color are being unjustly treated. The preponderance of evidence—the tone of the bulk of social media reaction—suggests that had Mr. Kaepernick been white, and had he been protesting taxes, the public outcry likely would have been different.

In the first place, it’s a first amendment issue; and there’s a credible sense in which the primary outcry comes from the same populace that is passionate in its defense of the second amendment, as if one amendment is more important than another. Given our current political majority, and given that the President of the United States said that NFL players who kneel during the National Anthem should be fired[1], I think I can build a case that our first amendment rights are more likely to be abused than are our second amendment rights.

In the second place, taking a knee was never intended as an act of disrespect—of the anthem, or the flag or the sacrifice of our military personnel. Most of those who have chosen to take a knee have stated as much. As a veteran who has served under fire, I take no offense and sense no disrespect. In fact, I served (so I’m told) precisely to defend the rights of those who peacefully protest. More importantly, I served to defend the rights of those on whose behalf the NFL players are protesting.

In the third place, the magnitude of reaction against the act of taking a knee is effectively, if not intentionally, a gross distraction from the real issue. The motivation behind the kneeling protest is the documentable reality that people of color (and other minorities) are treated differently than whites are treated.

I repeat: the documentable reality. But the slightest mention of that reality on social media garners immediate and hostile response. Many people take even general comments about racism very personally, as if those comments amount to accusations directed specifically at them. I have to wonder why they think that!

I’ve seen a lot of statements that begin with, “I’m so tired of people playing the racism card!” Well, it’s not a card, and it’s not being “played.” It’s a reality that hurts many people! Yet, there may be no stronger denial in the USA than the denial of racism.

Finally, the comments I hear and read build a compelling case that the public outcry really is not about disrespect, but about disagreement. Intolerance of disagreement, or of difference, is one of the fastest growing and most dangerous cultural trends of our time. I guess that’s my primary point in this blog.

What we have lost in our culture is not simply the ability to disagree respectfully; what we have lost is any sense that disagreement can have a positive conclusion. We have lost all sense of unity, replacing it with a demand for uniformity—and not just any uniformity. The demand is that everyone agree and conform with “my/our” perspective.

In the past, I have written often about the growing obsession with “being right”—the arrogant[2] assumption that I/we, and only I/we, are absolutely right; the custodians of absolute truth.

Limited as we are by the clay of which we are made, none of us humans is capable of comprehending absolute truth. Without the humility to accept and acknowledge that my/our perspective is partial and incomplete, and that we need each other’s insights to build consensus (rather than inflicting one perspective) there will never be unity among humans.

Until we stop shouting, and start listening—really listening—to each other, there will always be a need to protest.

I have wished Mr. Kaepernick had chosen a more effective expression of protest—one less counterproductive to his own cause. But, I have to wonder, given the animosity that is infecting more and more of our population, whether it would have been possible for him to find any expression of protest that would have been greeted with a less hostile reaction. I fear that’s what we have become. 
Maybe on our knees is where we all need to be.

That’s the way I see it through the flawed glass that is my world view.

Together in the Walk,

Jim



[1] And the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, Jerry Jones, said he would do so, which leads me to wonder whether such firings would be grounds for a viable lawsuit on the basis of violation of first amendment rights.
[2] To assume absolute truth is to assume equal status with God, which not only is arrogant; it’s blasphemous! As I understand the doctrine of original sin, it is related to that assumption.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Sometimes Ya’ Just Gotta’ Get Mad!


I was angry last Sunday—or, more accurately, I was angry most of last week. By Sunday morning I was in pretty good shape, anger wise; but, all week the anger distracted my sermon preparation.

Finally, I decided to quit fighting it and just go with the flow and see what happened. I hope it worked.

My anger, you probably already have guessed, was triggered by the responses to the tragic occurrence in Charlottesville, Virginia on the previous weekend. A protest rally turned bad, with counter protests and (some say) some government incompetence. Some showed up with guns and clubs and baseball bats, itching for a fight.

And all over a statue. Actually, it wasn’t about the statue. It was about what the statue represents, which is a story that’s over 150 years old. It’s history. Learn from it. And the statue could be—could be—useful in teaching in such a way that maybe we could avoid repeating history (like we’re doing in our squabbles over statues).

Anyway, while the events in Charlottesville are bad enough, they’re not the direct source of my anger. My anger stemmed from the denial of accountability that was rampant from all sides (some isolated individual responses on all sides notwithstanding).

In the first place, the climate that nurtures that kind of gratuitous rage and violence has been a long time in developing. A long time! And, aside from a few isolated voices from time-to-time, not many efforts have been made to slow the eruption of that adversarial culture that breeds hatred and intolerance of differences. Indeed, there are some elements that appear gleeful in their incitement of the hostility.

But, denial is the modus operandi for a significant population from all sides. It’s “their fault.” Or, "It all started when he hit me back!" Each side noted that the other side brought guns and bats and clubs, while overlooking their own side’s arsenal. Each side compared their evil with other side’s evil and rationalized their own with, “It’s not as bad as theirs.”

Aside from some fringe hate groups that seem to relish the tumult, virtually nobody admits to being a racist or a white supremacist; nobody admits hate; nobody admits complicity (either by overt action or consenting silence—or simply by benefitting from a dysfunctional system) in the formation of the aforementioned adversarial culture that foments the hatred.

And so we just move from one violent tragedy to another, while the general response is to deny complicity (directly or indirectly) and to blame everybody else. And efforts to reconcile are either ignored or outright rejected as radical left/right, etc.

And so, I just couldn’t not be angry at what we’ve become: primitive savages that don’t want justice or reconciliation. We want to control everybody else and make them like us. George Orwell got it only half right. Big Brother is emerging; but, he is neither Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, left or right. He is just a general, non-partisan climate of indiscriminate hate.

As I worked on Sunday’s sermon, I struggled with the Lectionary—all four readings. Finally the reading from the Hebrew Scripture spoke to me, and led my spirit back to a sense of hope.

On Sunday morning, I shared my anger with the congregation. Then I moved with them through the story of Joseph:

1.      He remained humble. He was second in power in all Egypt; but, he didn’t use that power to lord it over his brothers who had betrayed him and sold him into slavery. He didn’t claim anything absolute for himself; in fact, he told his brothers, “You didn’t send me here; God brought me here so that lives could be saved.” Until we can move through this cultural obsession with being right, and can be humble enough to admit, "I might be wrong (and truly mean it)," we will continue as is. Humility is the starting place.

2.      He demonstrated “love of enemies” which Christ would later endorse, and which St. Paul would confirm.

3.      He took initiative to reconcile, even though he was the one who was wronged! Talk about humility!

4.      He set a standard we Disciples, 3500 years later, would adopt as our identity statement: “a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.”

5.      He refused to be discouraged. Wrongly accused and imprisoned, he remained faithful.

6.      He listened to God. Prayer unites us and aligns us with the will and the vision of God.

I hope it worked. I had found in the Scriptural story of Joseph a way to move through my anger, rather than act it out. I hope the congregation heard that. I hope we all can hear that, and can begin to move through this demonic insanity toward reconciliation.

That’s the way it looks through the flawed glass that is my world view.

Together in the Walk,

Jim






Saturday, August 12, 2017

Apocalypse Now?


Okay, friends and neighbors; I’m going to get very specific here, and I probably will upset some people (“What’s new?” you ask.) But I don’t think they will be any more upset than I am over the recent irresponsible misapplication of scripture by Rev. Robert Jeffress, one of President Trump’s key evangelical Christian advisers (and I use the word, Christian, in the nominative case, and not necessarily as descriptive of the faith as lived and taught by Jesus of Nazareth.)
In the first place, Rev. Jeffress uses Romans 12 to justify his ill-conceived counsel to the President. That epistle was a letter “written to line out a survival strategy for a minority faith in the cosmopolitan capital of a first century super power.  Paul was counseling some early Jesus-followers on how to deal with Caesar’s … saber-rattling, not counseling them on how to endorse it[1] or take it out. And to rip the text out of that context and plop it, indiscriminately into a context twenty centuries removed from, and 180 degrees in opposition to its origin is the grossest kind of irresponsible eisegesis![2] 
Just read the text. Just read the text!!!
Yes, there is that phrase, “hate what is evil” in verse 9—stirred into a verbal combination of some of the strongest exhortations to love found anywhere in Scripture!
“Hate what is evil” is about midway through a text that begins by calling its readers to present their bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God (vs. 1). Read it again: “sacrifice.” A few lines later the writer calls his readers not to think of themselves  more highly than they ought to think.
Then there follows a treatise on using the gifts of ministry given to the readers by the Holy Spirit—gifts the same writer, in another epistle, says are given for the purpose of building up the Body (the church). And none of the gifts named and described can be construed, even obliquely, to be used effectively in “taking out” an enemy.
Indeed, only a few lines further, we find this counsel (vss 14-21, underlining mine):
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
I searched Google, and can’t find Rev. Jeffress’ specific application of Romans 12; but I can’t find anything in that text that even remotely would lead one to conclude that God had authorized anyone to “take out” an enemy or a threat. “…if your enemies are hungry, feed them…” 
Having been affiliated with the same fellowship as Rev. Jeffress, I anticipate that he will explain away this entire chapter by saying the writer is describing behavior limited to within the fellowship of the church, and his exhortation is not binding toward those outside the church. That perspective is, indeed, a presupposition with which the Southern Baptists bring to Scripture (that at least was the case when I was affiliated with them; however, my affiliation ended in the late 1960s). I do not find that restriction anywhere as a blanket pronouncement upon Christian ethics and relationships.
What I do find in this text is a call to love—including love of one’s enemies. In that exhortation, the writer is word-for-word consistent with the exhortations of Jesus of Nazareth.
There are other texts of Scripture that are used in some Christian moral and ethical conventions to rationalize Just War. I do not concur with those interpretations, and, in my estimation, neither Rev. Jeffress nor anyone else will find such justification in any biblical text. It’s all a part of the historic struggle among people of faith regarding how to balance a commitment to family and country with a commitment to live out Jesus’ ethic of love and unity.
Justify preemptive military action or assassination if you must; but, I sincerely believe you’ll have to look outside Christian Scriptures to do so. If the same Christ or the same Christian writer, or the same God who inspires it all can counsel, “Love your enemies” in one breath and then counsel, “Take out Kim Jong Un” in the next breath, then we’re dealing with schizophrenia, not faith.
That’s the way it looks through the Flawed Glass that is my world view.
Together in the Walk,
Jim



[1] Read more at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/irreverin/2017/08/5060/#XZvmqkFJa5Lo8wIL.99.
[2] From Wikipedia: “…the process of interpreting a text or portion of text in such a way that the process introduces one's own presuppositions, agendas…”


Friday, July 21, 2017



Earlier this month, Jo Lynn and I were blessed and inspired by our brief time at the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). We were in Indianapolis, in the gigantic convention center, which also was hosting a PopCon event. Hundreds of youth and young adults milled about the convention center, dressed as their favorite comic book or movie character. The contrast between the two events was notable. 
The Assembly theme was “One”, based upon Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20-21, that his disciples might be one, as he and the Father are one. It opened on Saturday night with a worship service that removed any stereotype of Disciples as totally cerebral. The pageantry and spectacle was not typical of Disciple congregational worship; although it was typical of General Assembly worship, when thousands of people, representing widely diverse Christian cultures and ethnicities and styles blend into a unity of expression. There was a Praise Band, a chamber orchestra, a large choir, liturgical dance and, of course, preaching and communion. We sang praise songs, spirituals and traditional hymns. It was emotional, uplifting and energizing.

The speaker for the evening, Rev. Jose Morales, Jr, preached from the Assembly text. Morales spoke of “safe unity”, which is really uniformity, and is no unity at all. The worst kind of unity is divisiveness masquerading as unity.
Then he noted that the text was sandwiched between the story of Jesus’ washing his disciples’ feet, and the crucifixion. True unity, he said, is dangerous unity—radical unity. True unity is bracketed between humility (washing his disciples’ feet) and sacrifice (the crucifixion).
Sunday morning, we worshiped at Central Christian Church in Indianapolis. From the spontaneous group singing of choruses and camp songs as the people gathered (around 600 by my estimation) to the communion service that climaxed the experience, it will long be remembered. I sang in the choir, which added to my inspiration.
Dr. William Barber (photo by Jo Lynn Robinson)
The preacher for the morning was Dr. William Barber, Pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Goldsboro, North Carolina. Dr. Barber has gained national attention in recent months, and is being compared by some to Martin Luther King, Jr.
He preached from Daniel—the story of the three Hebrew men who would not bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden idle. The sermon title was, “When Bowing Down is Not an Option.” He built his message around the phrase, “Stand your ground; because bowing down is not an option.”
At first, I was troubled by his affirmation of the phrase, “stand your ground,” especially considering recent violence and controversy surrounding so-called “stand your ground” laws. But it soon became clear that Dr., Barber’s application had nothing to do with defending oneself or using violence in any way. His application of the phrase had to do with morality and faith.
He built momentum through a litany of examples in which people of faith have stood their ground when bowing down was not an option. They stood their ground in face of injustice and abuses of power, and he grounded his examples in Gospel stories in which Jesus made similar stances.
His powerful ending was almost a chant—another litany filled with images of God’s victory over evil: “When the wolf lies down with the lamb, then we will bow down; when the lion eats straw with the ox, then we will bow down; etc. But until then… until then… until then… we will stand our ground, because bowing down is not an option!”
In those all-too-brief moments, I caught a glimpse of the Kingdom.
That’s the way it looks through the Flawed Glass that is my world view.

Together in the Walk,

Jim

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Two Pleasant Surprises


I had two pleasant surprises this morning. First, when I stepped outside for my morning walk/jog, it was raining. I checked the radar app on my phone, and the band of showers was very large; so, there would be no walk/jog this morning!

Now, I’m well aware of the benefits that accrue from my morning ritual. It’s generally good for my cardio/vascular health, physical stamina and flexibility. And at my age, all of those benefits are crucial.

The benefits especially will be appreciated in about two-and-a-half weeks, when I hoist a 35-pound backpack and start up Windsor Trail toward the peak of Santa Fe Baldy in New Mexico’s Pecos Wilderness. It will be my first backpacking trip since 1987; but, I hope it won’t be my last. I’ve missed those adventures.  

Even with walking, jogging and lots of regular stretching, I deal with daily aches and soreness resulting from the yard work I enjoy. I can only imagine what my aging body would feel like if I weren’t doing some kind of regular conditioning routine.

Still, benefits notwithstanding, the walking/jogging is an effort I’d just as soon forego; so, the rain was a welcome surprise this morning.

I picked up the newspaper and stepped back inside. After shedding my hiking boots, I settled into my recliner with my newspaper. On the front page was not a single story about a shooting, murder, rape, robbery… not even an arrest for dui! I haven’t kept records; however, that may be a first. Usually there are three or more stories about such acts of violence.

I think of our community, Conway Arkansas, as a safe place to live, and I guess it is, all things being considered. It’s a university and college town with three significant institutions of higher learning. Some major industries bolster the tax base, which the progressive city government puts to good use. The old downtown area is well known in the area for its well-maintained early twentieth century charm. Even with new upscale shopping centers going up, there are very few vacant buildings downtown.

All-in-all, it’s a good place to live. But violence sells newspapers, I’m told; so, the front page of the local newspaper usually is loaded with what sells.

Today, the lead headline was about a gourmet popcorn shop going into the newest shopping center in town. I guess that’s important to somebody. There also was a story about a project to clean up and spruce up a street connecting downtown to one of the college campuses. The artist’s rendering looks really nice. The “more pedestrian friendly environment” will have wide sidewalks and bike lanes, with “portions of the project (being) designed for the arts.”

A local collision repair service is offering free child passenger safety seat checkups, and the University of Central Arkansas Archives is home to 360 unique collections.

A nice alternative to the usual litany of violence.

That’s the way it looks through the flawed glass that is my world view.

Together in the Walk,

Jim


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Reflections on a Lenten Text


A recent Gospel reading from the Revised Common Lectionary was John 9:1-41. Jesus and the disciples met a blind man—blind from birth. His disciples asked, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Their question represents old wisdom: poverty or illness as a sign that somebody has sinned. Blame the victim! Jesus contradicts that wisdom: “It’s not the victim’s fault. It’s not anybody’s ‘fault’. But God can be glorified in and through any situation.”
And, Jesus heals him. Note: It was on the Sabbath.
The neighbors were amazed! “Isn’t this the guy that used to sit and beg?” “No! It can’t be! It’s just somebody that looks like him!” When they confronted him, they didn’t like his answers; so, they took him to the Pharisees, who immediately said, “Well, the healer can’t be from God, because he doesn’t keep the Sabbath.”
Maybe you’ve noticed: sometimes our ideologies—our beliefs and doctrines, both religious and political—get in the way of what’s right.
The Pharisees decided the man hadn’t been healed. It was a sham; so, they called his parents, who said, “Ask him; he’s of age.” (They were afraid of the Pharisees. Hmmm. Imagine: being afraid of religious leaders!)
So, the Pharisees called the man back in, and played the intimidation card: “Change your testimony! We know this man is a sinner; so, don’t say he healed you. Say God healed you!”
His response was simple: “One thing I do know, I was blind, now I see.”
So, they asked again, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 
He replied, “I told you already, and you wouldn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it again?” [Starting to seem like a Senate investigation hearing, isn’t it?]
They said, “You were born entirely in ignorance, and you’re trying to teach us?” And they kicked him out in the street.
There are several layers here: nobody in this story “gets it”! I wonder what I don't get. I wonder what we don't get.
I guess I’ve been thinking that the principle of an ideological system taking precedence over human need is a relatively new thing. Obviously, I was wrong. “The healer can’t be from God because he doesn’t keep the Sabbath?” Great Honk!
A human need has been met! A man has been healed! He once was blind, but now he can see! Why isn’t that the primary focus? Why isn’t it celebrated? “…he doesn’t keep the Sabbath? [Later, this healer who can’t be from God would ask the same Pharisees, “Is it right to do good on the Sabbath?”]
All these people were looking for—were longing for—the kingdom of God; and all the while, the healer who can’t be from God has been saying, “The Kingdom is here!” “This is it!”
They couldn’t see it, because it didn’t fit their expectations. It didn’t fit in their system.
A primary message of the Gospels is that this healer who can’t be from God is the very one who is bringing in the Kingdom of God; but he hasn’t come to restore the old kingdom of their creedal system; he’s come to bring a New Kingdom! The old kingdom was based on law and sacrifice; the new kingdom will be based on love and grace.
People whose lives are based on rules find it hard to understand and accept love and grace. “You don’t work, you don’t eat.” That’s law. “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.” (Matthew 25:35 NIV) That’s grace. It’s easier to respond, “Get a job!” or, “I don’t want to encourage their dependence.”
The Gospel readings in the Lectionary are preparing us and moving us toward the Easter celebration. Sunday-after-next will be Palm Sunday. Remember: many of those who cried “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday, cried, “Crucify him!” Friday morning, because he didn’t live up to their locked-in belief system. So, they judged him unqualified.
They didn’t get it. Had I been there, I wonder if I’d have “gotten it.” Do I really “get it”, even today? Is my own ideology—my doctrine—so rigid that I don’t recognize the movement of God unless it fits into what I already think I know? What don’t I get?
That’s the essence of walking by faith, not by sight.
That’s the way I see it through the Flawed Glass that is my world view.
Together in the Walk,
Jim

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

I'd Rather Fight than Switch!


Passions are high, but solutions are rare, whether the subject is terrorism, health care, public education, the arts, personal morality or the role of government in any or all of the above; whether the concern is for the needs of the many versus the needs of the one; whether the question relates to the causes of poverty or the degree to which “the market” should be free or regulated.
It’s just easier to call somebody a liberal (or a conservative or  radical or wacko or whatever) and point fingers of blame, than to set aside personal or party ideology and engage in effective problem solving and collaboration.
Remember the cigarette ad from the 60s? "I'd rather fight than switch!"
The word, ‘paranoia’ is being tossed around a lot these days. From where I sit, however, the dominant cultural reaction looks less like paranoia and more like scapegoating. The aim is to redirect responsibility and accountability. As a result, whatever it’s called, not only are solutions rare, but so, also, are viable initiatives for new directions.
The recent health care program presented by the Republicans was said to have been a slipshod, hastily-thrown-together mish-mash that was no better—perhaps worse—than the Affordable Care Act it was intended to replace. Some even said it was primarily an act of revenge against Liberals.
I wasn’t there, and therefore don’t have first-hand knowledge[1]; however, what came across in the creation of both the Affordable Care Act and the American Health Care Act was the absence of any attempt at bi-partisan collaboration. Neither party acknowledged validity in the other party’s input, and each party engaged in efforts designed solely to undermine whatever the other party initiated.
The result is two “better than nothing” health care plans, neither of which is sufficiently comprehensive. Nobody’s happy; and most are angry and scapegoating (again, the act of redirecting responsibility and accountability.
Remember your childhood sibling squabbles: “It’s your fault!”
What we have here is a collision of values! On the one hand, conservatives believe “That government is best that governs least”[2] and attempt to enact that dictum through legislation. On the other hand, while I don’t think anyone really disagrees with the dictum, liberals tend to focus more on specific human needs that go unattended and see government involvement as the only viable alternative at a given moment.
Both perspectives are valid; indeed, most issues are both/and, rather than either/or, concerns. What is missing is a workable strategy of application—a strategy to reduce government involvement while making “other arrangements” for meeting human need. Theories and opinions abound. Passions are high. But workable strategies are rare.
Eliminating welfare fraud and dependence are valid, worthy goals; but going “cold turkey” destroys people, especially those who are most vulnerable and who, in reality, constitute a much larger population than those who manipulate and abuse the system.
Like everyone else, I have strengths and weaknesses. Among my strengths are training in group dynamics and conflict resolution. Whenever I begin any conflict resolution, whether it’s a marital conflict, a conflict between teachers and administration, or a church fight, I always open with a question: “Do you want to resolve the issue between you, or do you just want to win the fight?”
Maybe it’s just me; but, in my observation it seems obvious how most politically-involved people would answer.
It’s beyond sad. It’s tragic and dangerous.
That’s the way I see it through the Flawed Glass that is my world view.
Together in the Walk,
Jim



[1] Nor am I privy to any other person’s mind; therefore, I am unable to judge a person’s intentions or motivations. I am, however, relatively capable of reading people’s behavior, body language, voice inflection, choice of vocabulary, etc., all of which give credible evidence into people’s intentions and motivations. Even so, it’s a tangled web of assumption when we presume to judge another’s mind.
[2] Henry David Thoreau opened his pamphlet, “Civil Disobedience” with this phrase. It has been attributed to Thomas Jefferson, although it is not found in any of his writings. (Source: http://eyler.freeservers.com/JeffPers/jefpco09.htm )