BLOG 10/13/18. A HOLY NATION WITHIN A (NOT-SO-HOLY) NATION

BLOG 10/13/18. A HOLY NATION WITHIN A (NOT-SO-HOLY) NATION

Being “aliens and exiles” is nothing new to the people of God, … but it can get confusing if one is in any illusion about its context. It gets more confusing when there are those who identify themselves as the people of God, while at the same time, espousing those governmental personalities and policies that are totally at odds with the teachings of Jesus Christ. It is also challenging when there is a price to be paid in obeying those teachings, whether that be the scorn of acquaintances, or the penalties imposed by governing authorities.

This can readily be seen in China, where the governing Communist government does not placidly countenance anything that challenges the ultimate authority of the state, and only allows the Christian church to exist when it is registered by the state, and when it does not do or say anything that is in opposition to that autonomy. The ‘registered’ church is known as the Three-Self Church (self-government, self-support, and self-propagation), designed by the government to keep it free from foreign influence. (And, to be clear, this is aimed at Protestant churches, the Roman Catholics deal with the government differently, but still exists under government approval.)

Ah! but then there is the other Protestant church, which is the underground church, which, because it operates clandestinely and is unregistered is difficult to quantify. But, it is widely acknowledged that the Christian church in China is the largest Christian church in the world, with estimates ranging from 31 million to 67 million, and projected to reach 110 million by 2030. For our purposes here, it is essential to note that it is with this underground church that the exponential growth is taking place in apartments, homes, out-of-sight locations, and is a church that owns only one Lord, Jesus Christ, and is seeking to be formed by his teachings. Its members know they live under the state authority of the Communist Party, and participate as citizens as they are able, but seek never to forget or compromise their primary calling.

The official Three-Self Church, for the purpose of being able to be public and to meet in public, bows the knee to the Communist ideology. Since the time of the Cultural Revolution under Chairman Mao, the underground church has frequently prospered as communities forming in odd places such as concentration camps. A holy nation existing with an alien culture, not bowing the knee to any Lord but Jesus Christ, … often at the cost of their lives.

This is not new. The Christian church has always been at odds with the ultimate demands of the empire, going all the way back to its clash with the Roman empire at its birth. It the twentieth century it was tragically displayed with the vast majority of the Christian church in Nazi Germany, maintained its security by never challenging the horribly wicket policies of Adolph Hitler. The witnessing church in Germany was the exception, but it had to survive by being underground, and out of sight. Its major figure was the giant Christian leadership of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The political context became so extreme that Bonhoeffer felt he was justified in cooperating in a move to assassinate Adolph Hitler, for which he was ultimately captured and hanged.

The true Christian community is always a community of aliens and exiles. So, at this moment and in our day, it is not sufficient to hi-jack the designation of Christian or Evangelical to justify your legitimacy. The true Christian community is that company of people formed by their obedience to the teachings of Jesus, regarding justice, stewardship of God’s creation, peacemaking, care for the poor, rejection of the power of wealth/mammon, … but primarily by their love. It exists as a holy nation within a nation often anything but holy! This comes at a cost.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

BLOG 10/3/18. I OWE MY READERS AN EXPLANATION

BLOG 10/3/10. I OWE MY READERS AN EXPLANATION

I owe my readers and subscribers an explanation for my silence for these past weeks. Here’s what’s going on: I’m trying to be a good steward of the nonagenarian days of my life, and an interview about my life that took place earlier this year triggered in me some reminiscences that I had long since forgotten. As a result of that, I have set for myself the goal of putting into writing something of a record of the faithful and providential hand of my Great Shepherd in my life. I have had to focus on this alone. It has been a fruitful time of late-life self-discovery for me. I should be able to finalize it in a few more weeks. … then I shall return to my twice weekly Blogs.

That’s it. Peace.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

BLOG 9/21/18. SO, WHAT’S NEW? THERE’S ALWAYS BEEN TRIBULATION.

BLOG 9/21/18. SO, WHAT’S NEW? THERE’S ALWAYS BEEN TRIBULATION

It all seems so bewildering: disrupting and devastating floods on the east coast and forest fires on the west coast, typhoons in the Philippines and China, chaos in our political arena, moral confusion with so many prominent people in high places, opioid devastation in lives, sixty-five million refugees in the world, persecution of religious minorities in Myanmar, human trafficking on a frightening scale, hopeless migrant families being separated, domestic conflicts and divorce, urban crime,  … and on and on …. What is one to think? Is the world coming unglued? Well, actually, no. Jesus forewarned us that tribulation / trouble has been and always will be the normal situation with us.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Jesus didn’t have rose-colored glasses. The context of Palestine in his day was one of the military occupation by a foreign power, ethnic prejudice, a religious power-structure, with leadership that too often forgotten its own sacred calling and purpose. Sound familiar. Jesus so often addressed these issues, and proposed to his followers that his New Creation transcended all of this tribulation, while not in the least denying it very real and omnipresent reality. At the same time, he commanded an ethic, a way of behavior, that, in turn, demonstrated the love of God for all the fractured persons who occupied the systems of darkness.

Jesus was the great Reconciler, the lover of sinners, the incarnation of God’s righteousness, and the of the God who forgives, recreates, and endows his followers with a “peace that passes understanding” even in the most horrendous circumstances. Jesus was the embodiment of what he was teaching, and became the victim of its worst violence. Such self-giving love has set us free to be the continuing embodiment to that love … always in the context of human brokenness and tribulation.

It is into this brokenness, and with all of its victims, and tragic realities that we find our holy place. C. S. Lewis has one of his characters contemplating the horrendous circumstances that he has just gone through with these reflections: “This chapter, this page, this very sentence, in the cosmic story was utterly and eternally itself; no other passage that had ever occurred or ever would occur could be substituted for it.” (Ransom in Perelandra. p. 146). What he had been through was an encounter with evil in its most vicious personality—a nightmare. And yet his faithfulness to his calling was awesome in its liberating consequences. Ours may never be quite so dramatic, but the reality of ever-present tribulation / difficulties is our ‘normal’ in this age, … in this age where we are the agents and demonstrations of God’s age to come.

Our calling is to be a people of hope, who wear the garments of salvation in the midst of the most mundane, and often tragic, contexts. And would you believe? … it is in such contexts that we are to “rejoice always”?

________________

[If you find these Blogs helpful/challenging, please recommend them to your friends. Thanks.]

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

BLOG 9/18/18. THE ENIGMA / LIABILITY OUR CELLPHONE CULTURE

BLOG 9/18/18. THE ENIGMA / LIABILITY OF OUR CELLPHONE CULTURE

Let me run a thought by you. I am looking at two inescapable present cultural forces, and struggling to know how to relate them in my comprehension of the realities in which we all live. One is the obvious and fascinating information age culture, what with omnipresent iPhones, iPads, and the whole information age reality, with so many brilliant and mind-boggling new discoveries. I see this reality in web-sites source such as Singularity Hub, and on television accounts from places such as M.I.T. where young geniuses are linking their brains to a computer with all the potential of that. Such information age discoveries hold the potential of solving many of the problems we face in this present moment of history. This is all positive and heartening.

But then, … there is a subtle downside to all of this: an emerging generational culture, while it is the most connected and has access to more information than is imaginable, … that is exhibiting an observable loss in its capacity for significant inter-personal communication, for empathy, of the grace of listening to others with their hearts. This is now becoming an inescapable result of a whole generation’s captivity to their iPhones, while also to its inability communicate eye-to-eye and to ‘tune-in’ to those with whom they interact each day.

Recent studies have indicated that strong home life and communication is one of the major components in a young person’s capacity to learn in school—not at all the superiority of one school (private) over another (public). There are now major sociological studies dealing with what is necessary to reclaim good conversation (e.g. Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle). Such a lost capacity has distressing consequences. To sit at a table with others who are lost in their iPhones is to be a stranger in what should be a context for mutually helpful communication, for listening, for sharing, for laughing together, for asking questions, for confessing hurts and failures.

Another result of this captivity to iPhones is the loss of a capacity to walk through a neighborhood and note things of beauty, or to even acknowledge others who are passing by. Yet to mention this to these persons is to draw a response of indifference, or a “who cares?”

For those of us who are the followers of Jesus Christ, we are always profoundly grateful that Jesus was the very being of God, the Word of God made flesh and “moving into the neighborhood” (Eugene Peterson’s wonderful paraphrase of John 1). Jesus immersed himself in conversation with ordinary, often morally delinquent, or fractured people. To read the gospel accounts is to see One who moved easily among, and engaged in purposeful conversation with people along the way. This call to be in purposeful conversation is an undeniable facet of his command to “love one another as I have loved you.”

His followers are to see all things from his point of view (Colossians 1:9 JBP paraphrase). It is difficult to even imagine how Jesus would respond to this culture that seems so often immune to significant and intimate conversation. The early church came together (as the account in Acts relates it) from house to house in an intimate fellowship, a fellowship in which they shared each other’s lives, confessed their sins, and incarnated an empathy for one another by the dynamic of the Spirit of Jesus which they all shared. And that empathetic love was shared in their outreach in to the larger community.

I could wish that when I and we get together for coffee, or beer, or a meal, that we all could turn-off cell-phones, look each other I the eye and listen with our hearts to one another, … to express empathy with those with whom we are engaged in conversation. Maybe I’m an unrealistic dreamer, but that’s my very inadequate attempt to at least bring to your attention a not-so-subtle pathology that makes true community almost impossible, … and please feed-back your responses to me. We all are participants in these two cultural forces, and I would value your insights. Thanks.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

BLOG 9/14/18. CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP AND ECONOMICS

BLOG 9/14/16. CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP AND ECONOMICS

With all the confusing stuff in our present scene about religion, definitions of the term ‘evangelical,’ scandals in the church, etc. … it might be a good time to stop and take a look at the economic dimensions that are of the very essence of Christian discipleship. After all, the only competitor to God that Jesus names is mammon, i.e., “You cannot serve God and mammon.” This is not a minor factor in the gospel accounts. Jesus, after all, did not go around preaching theological treatises, he called men and women to a whole new understanding of life. What he did was to declare unequivocally that in himself, God’s Age-to-Come, God’s New Creation, God’s eternal kingdom, … has invaded our present age, i.e., has become present in himself. What did was to teach that those who would be his disciples, his followers, would be known, not by their words, but more, by their visible behavior. Then, when you begin to explore what that visible behavior looked like, a major component is that it is seen in one’s faithfulness to a new understanding of the place and use of possessions, and of one’s freedom from the domination of one’s life by money/mammon. Christ’s teachings on New Creation behavior are seen in his Sermon on the Mount / Sermon on the Plain: “Woe to you rich. Blessed are you poor.”

Those outside of the community of faith are hardly impressed by ‘religious talk’ but they cannot escape the reality of lives that have a different center, a different authority, a different creative source, and a different guiding line. … And this is seen in the freedom from self-interested captivity to wealth and possessions. It is seen in unselfish, generous, sensitivity to human need, and so much more. The Latin American Christian community made prominent the term orthopraxis, i.e., the doing, or living out in flesh and blood, the truth in daily life.

Such discipleship, however, requires that we be free from the captivity to possessions(. Jesus was unequivocal in saying that if anyone would come after him, he/she must forsake all that he/she has so that obedience to Christ would be primary. This becomes so difficult to even conceive in our consumer culture. When the rich young man came to ask Jesus what he must do to become his disciple, Jesus knowing that the young man’s wealth would always be his ultimate trust, required of him that he sell all that he had, then come—which exposed the young man’s ultimate trust. (Imagine saying that to, say, Jeff Bezos and you begin to get the picture.)

It is probably exhibited most colorfully in Jesus encounter with Zacchaeus, who had amassed a fortune by all kinds of deceptive means in his role as tax-collector. When Jesus, humorously called the short Zacchaeus to come down out of the tree, and invited himself into Zacchaeus’ house, there occurred a long conversation. What did they talk about? What transpired? Whatever it was, when they emerged from the house, Jesus announced that salvation had come to the house of Zacchaeus. What Zacchaeus announced, however, was that his encounter with Jesus had radically changed his economic practice, that he would restore all that he had defrauded four-fold, and that he would give half of his possession to the poor. That’s orthopraxis!

Mammon, the power of greed and wealth, so control our lives, our politics, our culture that it appears almost unsolvable. The very rich get tax breaks, while the helpless poor struggle to survive and cope with the basic demands of health, education, and earning a living wage.

Have I made my point? It would almost seem that Jesus would be more fulfilled in being with the protestors in the ‘Occupy Wall Street” movement, … than he would be in attending the Presidential Prayer Breakfast (which has become a prestige event the significance of which is dubious). Who are the rich? Probably most of us (who read these blogs). Jesus: “Truly I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.” However, complex this issue is, we dare not ignore the vast hold that mammon exercises on all of us.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

BLOG 9/11/18. “I KNOW THAT I AM NOT ALONE”

BLOG 9/11/18. “I KNOW THAT I AM NOT ALONE”

Loneliness is a very real issue for so many people, and always has been. There was the book a few years ago: Alone in the Crowd, or another Bowling Alone. I think of it often since my wife’s death what with the absence of her company, our conversations, her wisdom. For some reason this reality came back to me in a poignant memory from a moment in 1974 in Lausanne, Switzerland. In that year, the Billy Graham organization had planned and convened a remarkable International Congress on World Evangelization.

The planning committee had done an unbelievable (near miraculous) job of finding out who the real practitioners of evangelism were from across the globe, and finding the funding to bring them together in Lausanne in the summer of that year. What that meant was that they found many in remote parts of the globe who functioned fruitfully under the most difficult circumstances of poverty, cultural opposition, and a multitude of discouragements. The congress planners found the means to fund these faithful ones to come for the event, and to house and feed them while they were there.

One of the events of the Congress was a huge rally open to the public, which took place in the Olympic Stadium in that city, with Billy Graham as the preacher. It drew people from all over that part of Europe. My Betty and I had arrived early and were seated high up I the stands, and were enjoying surveying that cosmopolitan crowd assembling. Betty, being who she was, engaged a delegate who was seated next to her (and was bi-lingual), who if remember correctly was from a remote village in northern India. She asked him what were his thoughts as we participated in that event. His response was: “I know that I am not alone.” When she pressed him to explain that, it came out that he operated out of a small Christian community in a remote village in a primarily Hindu culture. He regularly got on his bicycle and rode to even more remote places and communicated to them the message of God’s love in Christ.

That meant, however, that there were many discouragements, and much misunderstanding, and even more, an often sense of loneliness. Being there in Lausanne made him aware that he was a very real component in the global community of Christ’s followers, and that his isolated work as a herald of the gospel was also a dynamic piece of that global mosaic which we call the church. “I know that I am not alone!”

Christ’s people around the world remind themselves of this reality when they repeat together the Apostles Creed: “… and I believe in the holy catholic church,” that global family of God to whom Jesus has promised: “I will never leave you, nor forsake you,” i.e., you will never ultimately be alone. To be sure, Christians quite often find themselves somewhat isolated and misunderstood, and not always having access to a community of other believers, but then they know that Christ’s church is also the dwelling-place of God by the Holy Spirit.

What is encouraging to me is my realization that these Blogs go to my Christian brothers and sisters, some of whom are isolated, and for whom these are their communication with the community of faith, and for whom I can be their reminder that they are not alone, … something of a cyberspace Christian community. I’ll not even try to explain that theologically, but only to report that it is a reality that I am aware of because of the responses I receive, for which I am grateful that I can from afar represent the family of God.

And may grace and peace be multiplied to you.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

BLOG 9.7.18. THE CHURCH: CALLED TO BE SENT

BLOG 9/7/18. THE CHURCH: CALLED TO BE SENT

I had to chuckle. The responses to my last blog on the (caricatured) conceptions of the church as either composed of settlers or pioneers, were quite revealing of the fuzzy understandings that are formative in so much of the church’s self-understanding. There is a sense in which the church could be considered as both, but so often those of us who make up the church become comfortable in some institutional form what with its regular services and activities, its professional leadership, and its predictability, and so become (to use the term) church-i-fied.

There are so many conceptions of the church, i.e., sociological, historical, theological, Biblical, etc. that it is not surprising that one could be sincerely a part of a Christian community/church and yet not understand its role in the design of God. The very word church is the English translators word used to translate the Greek word ek-klesia (ecclesia as in ecclesiastical). It is a word that defines a community called-out for a purpose. Jesus employed the word when he told his disciples that he was going to build his church/ek-klesia ­upon those called out to be his followers and to engage with him in his message and mission.

That means that the church is called for a specific purpose, not to be ‘religious’, but rather to be engaged with him in his mission. He has called his followers to express their faith in and love for him in lives of trust and obedience. Everyone who is baptized has taken a vow to be his faithful disciple and to live a life of obedience to him.

Ah! But Jesus also tells his followers/disciples: “As the Father has sent me, even so do I send you.” That means that we are called by Jesus to be sent by Jesus to engage in his mission. Such also means that whatever the church is, it is a community formed by him and his word, and a community sent by him to be the incarnation of that mission in the totality of its life. The church (and every follower of Christ who composes it) is, in a very real sense, the missionary arm of the Holy Trinity. It does this by not only heralding the life and teachings of Christ in its ordinary conversation, but in being the communal expression of God’s New Humanity in Christ, by its love and good works, by demonstrating the love and good works of Christ, by loving not only friends, but strangers and even enemies. Because those who compose the church have been reconciled by Christ, they are also called to be reconcilers. Because they have been forgiven by God in Christ, they also forgive those who have sinned against them. The become a redemptive community that is to be contagious with the life of Christ which indwells them by the Holy Spirit.

The purpose of the community’s gatherings is to re-inforce, to be nurtured in the teachings of Christ and of holy scriptures, to celebrate in songs of praise together this calling and this mission. So, that whenever the church becomes focused on a place and designates it as the ‘house of God’ some yellow lights should go on. The dwelling-place of God is in his people by the Holy Spirit, not in a building. Yet the church has again and again become idolatrous of its buildings and institutions. Of course, there is a degree of institutionalization that takes place whenever a church is formed to function efficiently in its calling. Of course, there are those who emerge as gifted in its ministry of equipping its members for the carrying out its/their mission,

The church is the human community recrated, but it can be (by the very words of Christ) as small as two or three gathered together in his name, where he is with them. It can express itself in large assemblies or in houses, in diverse and often secret places, … but its integrity is always in its faithfulness to the message and mission of Christ. Its form changes in different contexts. Yes, we are both called and sent. We are the Body of Christ in the realities of daily life.

[See: http://wipfandstock.com/what-on-earth-is-the-church-14083.html]

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

BLOG 9/4/18. THE CHURCH: PIONEERS OR SETTLERS?

A few decades ago, a very astute, witty (even mischievous) Episcopal priest by the name of Wes Seeliger wrote a colorful, border-line irreverent, and yet most revealing book about two common appraisals of life and of the church. The book is entitled: Western Theology In it he sees two visions of life, and two kinds of people. The first see life as a possession to be carefully guarded.  They are called settlers. The second see life as a wild, fantastic, explosive gift. They are called pioneers.

These two types give rise to the two kinds of theology: Settler Theology and Pioneer Theology. Settler Theology is an attempt to answer all the questions, define and housebreak some sort of Supreme Being, establish the status quo on golden tablets in cinemascope. Pioneer Theology is an attempt to talk about what it means to receive the strange gift of life. The Wild West is the setting for both theologies.[1]

In Settler Theology, God is the mayor, and the church is the courthouse. It is the center of town life. The old stone structure dominates the town square. It’s windows are small and this makes it dark inside. Within the courthouse walls records are kept, taxes collected, trials held for bad guys. The courthouse is the settler’s symbol of law and order, stability, and most-important security. The mayor’s office is on the top floor. His eagle eye ferrets out the smallest detail of the town’s life. In Settler Theology, God is the mayor. He is a sight to behold … but since he keeps the blinds drawn no one sees him or knows him directly, but since there is order in the town, who can deny that he is there.

In Pioneer Theology, the church is the covered wagon. It’s a house on wheels, always on the move. The covered wagon is where the pioneers eat, sleep, fight, love and die. It bears the marks of life and movement—it creaks, it is scarred with arrows, bandaged with bailing wire. The covered wagon is always where the action is. It moves toward the future, and doesn’t bother to glorify its own ruts. The old wagon isn’t comfortable, but the pioneers don’t mind. They are more into adventure than comfort. In Pioneer Theology, God is the trail boss. He is rough and rugged, full of life. The trail boss lives, eats, sleeps fights with his people. Without him the wagon wouldn’t move. The trail boss often gets down in the mud with the pioneers to help push the wagon. … You begin to get Seeliger’s analogy.

In Settler Theology, Jesus is the sheriff who is sent by the mayor to enforce the rules. In Pioneer Theology, Jesus is the scout. He rides out ahead to find out the way the pioneers should go. The scout suffers every hardship that the pioneers do. In Settler Theology, the Christian is the settler. In Pioneer Theology, the Christian is the pioneer. In Settler Theology, the clergyman is the banker who keeps within his vault the values of the town. In Pioneer Theology, the clergy is the cook who doesn’t furnish the meat, but dishes up what the buffalo hunter provides. In Settler Theology, faith is trusting in the safety of the town: obeying the laws, keeping your nose clean, etc. In Pioneer Theology faith is the spirit of adventure, the readiness to move out, to risk everything on the trail. … and so it goes.

Sound familiar. I love the analogies. Comfort-zone Christianity is one of the most pernicious heresies we encounter. Christ’s calling is to a life that is only secure in our obedience to him. The true church is always a company of pioneers. I couldn’t resist sharing (maybe confusing you?) with Seeliger’s analogy.

[1] I think that much of this comes from a digest of the book by Brennan Manning that I copied years after reading the book.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

BLOG 8/3I/18. “… AS GOD’S PICKED REPRESENTATIVES OF THE NEW HUMANITY”

BLOG 8/31/18. “… AS GOD’S PICKED REPRESENTATIVES OF THE NEW HUMANITY”

You know, guys, it really does matter what our professed life in relationship to Christ looks like to those outside. An earlier paraphrase says it well: “As, therefore, God’s picked representatives of the new humanity, purified and beloved of God himself, be merciful in action, kindly in heart, humble in mind. Accept life, and be most patient and tolerant with one another, always ready to forgive …” (J. B. Phillips on Colossians 3:12). This is a consistent theme from Jesus through all the New Testament writings. We are called to be God’s New Creation people, his new humanity, and that is most convincingly communicated by our behavior.

Which raises the compelling question: What practical difference does your trust in / relationship to Jesus Christ make? How do you conceive of, and nurture your calling by Jesus Christ to be a dynamic part of his message and mission in the 24/7 vicissitudes of your life? How does it determine the caliber of your daily work and responsibilities and relationship to others? It’s quite too easy (and too common) to mouth-off about being a disciple of Jesus, or of being born again—but that’s not our calling. We are called to demonstrate by our love and good works that we related to him, and if others ask us: What makes us tick? Behave as we do? … then we are called to give them a thoughtful and sensitive answer.

Those who are still outside of the family of God can hardly escape the examples of warm hospitality, or helpful kindnesses. I love the comment made about the Irish poet Seamus Heaney after his death, that he was so influential because of his warmth, humor, caring and courtesy. (I wrote that into my prayer journal.) But it’s not only in the interpersonal relationships of love and good works, but in the totality of life, … in our stewardship of the environment, in our quest for justice, peace-making, and humanitarian sensitivity in the larger social and political scene.

To be candid, going to multiple church meetings can be essentially meaningless, even a distraction, if those same church meetings to not at the same time re-energize us, equip us afresh, and encourage us in that calling to our calling to be God’s new humanity as we live out his message and mission.

Such a calling also is a calling to know how to relate, as God’s new humanity, to ‘real sinners,’ to difficult co-workers, to the unlikely and unlikeable … whom Jesus came to seek and to rescue. In the accounts of the early church in Jerusalem, the message and the healing made real in Christ, caused the local populace to come and to bring the sick to a place where the very shadow of Peter might fall on them and bring healing. I would like to think, and so I pray, that the authenticity of my new humanity in Christ might be a healing and reconciling influence wherever I went, and on whoever I engaged in personal relationships. I want to be a healer and a reconciler in the midst of a tragically estranged and often destructive context.

Our cultural atmosphere is probably polluted with too much unconvincing religious talk, when what it really needs would be a whole lot more (as someone designated them) ‘little Christs,’ i.e. those living and present incarnations of God’s new humanity. … And it begins with you and me. Go for it!

 

[And if these Blogs are helpful to you, recommend them to your friends. Thanks.]

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

BLOG 8/28/18. CAN BEING CANTANKEROUS BE A CHRISTIAN VIRTUE?

BLOG 8/28/18. CAN BEING CANTANKEROUS BE A CHRISTIAN VIRTUE?

I’ve just finished reading two books, both of which triggered such an outrageous question. One was a scholarly study of the ethical challenges that have confronted the humanitarian agency Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) that tracked the ever-changing issues faced over its forty-year history, what with the ever changing and challenging contexts and crises that it has engaged. In the conclusion of the study the author commented that it could almost be written into the constitution of the agency that it was deliberately cantankerous in that it was always dissatisfied that it was accomplishing it purpose in the most effective way. The other was a book about the ever-disruptive effect of creative thinkers, of how un-safe such non-conforming thinking can be.

Which, in turn, reminded me of the word from the apostle that those of us who are called into Christ’s New Creation are not to be conformed to the world (i.e., the existing powers (economic, political, cultural, etc.) and determining influences that are our context), but, rather, are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we might prove what is the will/agenda of God (Romans 12:1ff). That sounds awfully much like a call to being cantankerous to me. There is no way we can be so non-conforming and not, at the same time, be disruptive (though with sensitivity and gentleness).

In a world, such as ours, with daily mind-boggling new discoveries, old ways are constantly being outdated and replaced by new and often disruptive realities. One of the biographers of Larry Page and Sergei Brin, the co-founders of Google, summarized their motivation as their assumption that “if you wanted to make the world a better place, then you had to break a lot of rules, and piss a lot of people off.” Pardon me for saying so, but that sounds a whole lot like the effect of Jesus and of the early church, doesn’t it?

Then I think of Jesus coming into this human scene with a message that God was, in Jesus himself, invading this present with a disruptive and radically new creation that would be the ultimate fulfillment of God’s prophesies back from the very beginning. He was bringing into our human neighborhood a message of the ultimate meaning of God’s design for men and women that included meaning, acceptance with God, and hope.

Along the way he looked out on the crowds and had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he became angry at the ostensible spiritual leaders of Israel because they seemed to be so self-protective and indifferent to these sheep without a shepherd. In announcing his role in bringing about a new creation, he put his focus on the lost, the meaningless lives, the helpless, the hungry, the sick, and the oppressed. He gave a whole new agenda that acknowledged that this message of true righteousness would not be well received, but would incur retaliation, … but that his followers were to incarnate mercy, identity with the poor, peacemaking, good works, and to, in general, be demonstrations of his compassion for the sheep without shepherd. They were to be cantankerous, to be disruptors for the Kingdom of God. Then he sent his followers out to herald and practice this non-conforming new life that comes from God.

This being so, I often look with dismay at those ostensible church institutions that are so focused on their own survival, their handsome sanctuaries and their inner congregational life, … and show not a whit of concern for those sheep without a shepherd all around them, … are content to exist year after year without reaching any new believers, or making any redemptive impact upon the populations around the who are seeking to find some understanding of their lives without a center, without meaning, without justice, without a guiding line, or a final goal, … and I want to be cantankerous, to raise my voice and to be disruptive, to be non-conforming and so proving the will of God, and the reality of God’s new creation what with all of its hope and meaning and love through my life and community. How does that sound?

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments