…on orthopathy

Here’s a word from Eugene Peterson, which I found convicting, challenging, and thought provoking.  I’ll be chewing on this for awhile, and will probably need to read the whole book this excerpt is from, Practice Resurrection.

“[An ontological] understanding of church is hard to come by — maybe especially in America. Americans talk and write endlessly about what the church needs to become, what the church must do to be effective. The perceived failures of the church are analyzed and reforming strategies prescribed. The church is understood almost exclusively in terms of function — what we can see. If we can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. Everything is viewed through the lens of pragmatism. Church is an instrument that we have been given to bring about whatever Christ commanded us to do. Church is a staging ground for getting people motivated to continue Christ’s work.

This way of thinking — church as a human activity to be measured by human expectations — is pursued unthinkingly. The huge reality of God already at work in all the operations of the Trinity is benched on the sideline while we call timeout, huddle together with our heads bowed, and figure out a strategy by which we can compensate for God’s regrettable retreat into invisibility. This is dead wrong, and it is responsible for no end of shallowness and experimentation in trying to achieve success and relevance and effectiveness that people can see. Statistics provide the basic vocabulary for keeping score. Programs provide the game plan. This way of going about things has done and continues to do immeasurable damage to the American church.

This way of understanding church is very, very American and very, very wrong. We can no more understand church functionally than we can understand Jesus functionally. We have to submit ourselves to the revelation and receive church as the gift of Christ as he embodies himself in the world. Paul tells us that Christ is the head of a body, and the body is church. Head and body are one thing.

“Ontology” is a word that can get us past this clutter of functionalism. Ontology has to do with being. An ontological understanding of church has to do with what it is, not what it does. And what it is far wider, deeper, higher than anything it does, or anything we can take charge of our manipulate. …The being-ness of church is what we are dealing with. Church is not something that we cobble together to do something for God. It is the “fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:23) working comprehensively with and for us.

…We do not create the church. It is.  We enter and participate in what is given to us. What we do is, of course, significant. Our obedience and disobedience, our faithfulness and unfaithfulness — what we ought and ought not to do — are part of it. But what I am wanting to say is that there is more — far more — to the church than us. There is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Most of what the church is, not all, is invisible. We miss the complexity and glory of church if we insist on measuring and defining it by the parts that we play in it, if we insist on evaluating and judging it by what we think it ought to be.

…I have spent fifty years as a pastor in a church with people, a lot of whom seem to have no idea what is going on. What they see is chaos: hostility, injury, brokenness, church fights, church sleaze, church grandstanding, religious wars. Many of them find a place in the bleachers with a few other likeminded people and make do with what they find there. They survive by ignoring what they find confusing and disorienting. They remove their attention from what is taking place on the field (in the congregation, in the denomination). They do pray together, study together, socialize together. Life in the bleachers isn’t all that bad.

There are other people who are so disturbed by what they perceived as chaos on the playing field that they decided to “do something about it.” They want a game that looks like a game, a church that looks like a church, where no one gets hurt and everything is orderly and stays in place. They understand church as something they need to take charge of. And of course there are a great many people who just walk out and look for a game that they are already familiar with or go home and turn on the television where they can satisfy, if you can call it that, their religious needs by picking a brand without dealing personally with either God or people.

None of these three responses to the perceived messiness and bewildering chaos of church is without value, whether is finding a comfortable niche, finding something to fix, or looking for something that is congenial to one’s individual temperament and circumstances. But all of them, by reducing church to matters of function and personal preference, miss church in its richness, its intricacy, the complex aliveness that is inherent in everything that is going on.” —Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection, p. 118 – 123

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Hang from stars

Hang from stars

Your littered corrientes,
your filthy politicians,
your bitter bullets tore nothing
but clouds in the sky.
Your littered tierras,
your sugarcane and sweat,
your lowest bidder always buys.

The Mother of God weeps
as she gives her guns to greed.
The peasants grimace
and sow their trash and seed.
Where the littered ríos run
and the ashy montañas burn,
bullets and hope hang from stars in the sky.
On clear nights children reach out,
try to pull them down, while
Esperanza smiles like a far of Sandino silhouette.

Here God,
even hope seems littered.

(This poem was written after a 9 day trip to Nicaragua.)

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…a manifesto from a cold december day

a little theology….

“was it not three men that we threw into the midst of the fire, tied up?… There, I can see four men, free, walking about in the midst of the fire… and the fourth one looks like a divine being.” dan 3.24-25

God did not cause the radical evil witnessed in Newtown.  God created the world in love, and this presupposes a certain degree of freedom inherent in each human being to make good or evil decisions.   You or God cannot control someone you love, and sometimes that risk really hurts.  But remember, the freedom that allowed that man to do what he did, also allowed those teachers and students to bravely act in incredibly heroic ways that inspire us all.

God was there in that school.  God was with those children and teachers.  He did not silence the terrifying sound of bullets or the pain they caused in that moment.  But I believe God received their pain and fear with them, that God was present in a very real way, and that those children are safe and at peace in God’s presence now. God is always with us, and always offers hope for a better tomorrow in the ashes of today’s mistakes.  The Christmas story taught us at least that.  God does not always save us from the fire.  Often, God saves us in the fire.

a manifesto…

“Blessed are the peacemakers” mat 5.9

But something happened to me on December 14, 2012.  I can’t stand by and let atrocities like this recur.  I began to take Jesus repeated insistence throughout the Gospels to be a presence of peace in the world (jon 14.27).  So here’s my manifesto from 12/14/12.

1) I will commit my life to following Jesus.  I will show radical mercy to my enemies, strangers, the poor, the mentally ill, and the orphan.  I will love God with my whole heart and challenge the world to do the same.

2) From now on, I will support politicians and legislation that seek greater regulation over firearms.  (Not a ban 😉 )  I didn’t feel this way prior to December 14, but I’ve heard both sides of the argument and decided I prefer to err on the side vulnerability than violence.

The very same day someone went violently crazy in a school in America and killed 20 children, someone went violently crazy in a school in China, attacking 23 children, but killing no one.  The difference?  In China, they have strict gun control and the man could only ascertain a knife.  Australia suffered 13 mass murders between 1981 and 1996. In the 16 years since their gun law reforms, they’ve suffered 0.  Accounts like this span the globe.

3) I will not buy a gun.  Ever.  A Louisville Slugger?  Sure.  But I’m not giving the Violence Machine a nickel of my money.  I would rather be a victim of the Devil’s world than be a servant to it.

“…call us impious as much as you please.  Call us scorners of religion and atheists. But you will never make us believe in gods of sexual love and war… For, if they do the things that you say, they are obviously not gods.”

-Arnobius, Christian apologist, circa 305 AD

4) I will condemn war even more than I already did.  I sense that 90% of our military engagements could more peaceably be addressed if we were just a little more creative and a little less obsessed with violence.

5) Ronella and I will not tolerate violent video games or media in our house, particularly when we have children.

I don’t mean to focus on controversial political topics, but on December 14, 2012, I realized that I am a follower of Jesus.  And that means I am not a man of violence.

Our patriarchal culture is enamored with violence and guns because it make us feel more powerful, more macho, more safe.  But its time for us to trust in something much bigger than ourselves to save us from the madness we find in our world, to shift our worship from the gods of violence and power to the God of Mercy… looking to Jesus to love the mentally ill, the criminal, the introvert, the nerd, the poor and the estranged.  There are better ways to prevent mass shootings than selling more guns to the public.

The God of Mercy will save us all, but only if we submit to Him.  Jesus demonstrated this love when he told his disciples to lay down their weapons (mat 26.52) and He let His enemies kill Him on the cross.

You see, Jesus saves His enemies, but in America, we Christians shoot them.

The love, the peace, the mercy of God is waiting to be found by us, so it can liberate us all; in ways we never imagined possible.  Little, impermanent crumbs of salvation are found in grasping onto more guns, wealth, and prestige: fear and arrogance rooted in fear. But the entirety of liberation is found in the locus of mercy.

I promise you, we can have the salvation we are searching for.

I promise you, salvation is found where Mercy is.

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…on gods and haters

“The arrogant cannot stand in Your presence.  You hate all evildoers.”

Psalm 5:6     

“God hates all evildoers.”  So… God hates people?

Recently, I have noticed a few preachers picking up on this verse.  (At a church I visited, also, youtube Mark Driscoll, David Platt)  There are a certain breed of preachers who like to say really unloving things, and then pat themselves on the back because they’re “not afraid of the hard issues”, or worse, they’re not afraid of offending people.  What better way to prove you’re “not afraid of what people think” than to undermine the fundamental Christian belief that God so loved the “whole world”?  What better way to prove you’re not a people pleasing, wishy washy, nice guy who just wants Jesus to be nice to everybody than to drop this bomb on your congregation?  🙂

A Little Exegesis:

I want to appropriate this scripture (among others) and its language of “hate” so that we can appreciate the spiritual depth of this Psalm, while showing how radically unbiblical and theologically detrimental it is for us to take this text at face value.

In today’s radically individualistic society the word “hate” is defined by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary as “to feel intense or passionate dislike for (someone)”.  It is first and foremost marked by feeling, and is irreconcilable with altruistic actions, such as giving your only begotten son to die on their behalf.  Further, it is not necessarily marked by social exclusion– we may even hate the parents we continue to live with or our spouse we sleep with, because hatred is first and foremost individual and psychological, or introspective.

But the Bible was not written in an individualistic society.  In the highly collectivistic society of the Bible writers (which were not introspective like us and were extremely group-oriented) love and hate were not psychological or emotional terms.  In Psalm 5, hatred concerns group attachment.  Historical sociologist Bruce Malina describes their concept of hatred like this: “Hate would have meant ‘disattachment,’ ‘nonattachment,’ or ‘indifference’…. there may or may not be feelings of repulsion.”  To hate someone was to expel them from your in-group, such as your family or village.  If you hated your spouse, that could only mean you divorced her.  Being a member of an in-group was absolutely essential to survival in this world.  To be hated by it, that is, to be excluded or disattached, would have been detrimental.  So hatred was still very serious, but it is inappropriate to say that God has feelings of intense or passionate dislike for evildoers, and that is precisely what you do if you interpret this text literally.

A nice parallel these preachers may not like to retrieve for this conversation is Luke 14:26.  “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple.”  Here, these same preachers generally scrub the literal meaning of this text and often say that “Jesus was exaggerating” and what he meant was that you should love God so much that your love for your family should almost look like hatred.  But Jesus’ language is actually trying to communicate exactly what Psalm 5:6 is: one must be willing to disattach or be indifferent to their family, which was not only their abundant source of fellowship and joy, but one’s fundamental hope of economic survival in that world.  It took enormous faith to depart from your only hope for happiness and survival!

A Little Theology:

God disattaches God’s self from evildoers.  God cannot be in association with evil works of oppression and violence against those whom God loves (which is everybody 😉 and so God expels such evildoers from God’s relationship.  I think this is what the Psalmist is getting at, and I think it is an immensely liberating and fearful message.  God is light and in Him there is no darkness.  All the painful and evil things you see in this world, they are not from God.  God has no fellowship with such evil and the people asserting such evil.  God is not causing anyone to sin, or planning terrible things to happen, or puppeteering people to do awful things… God has hated, God has disattached God’s self, from evildoers.  

I thank God for inspiring Psalm 5:6.  But I’m not willing to even come close to compromising John 3:16 for a random line from a poem in the Old Testament.  God loved the whole world.  And that includes evildoers.  

God ain’t no hater.

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…on laws and homeless, naked, jobless, starving lunatics

“…sell everything you have, and give it to the poor…”  mat. 19.21

So…. should every Christian sell every possession?  Our houses, cars, computers, the clothes on our backs? And give it the poor?  A bunch of homelesss, naked, jobless, starving lunatics?  Jesus literally said “everything”, right?

Interpreting the laws, commandments, and imperatives of the Bible directly and literally is not only virtually impossible, it is highly problematic.  It was written between 2 and 3 thousand years ago, by dozens of writers, in three now dead languages, thousands of miles away from America, with completely different worldviews etc.  The Bible is pre-Renessaince, pre-Enlightenment, pre-Modernism, pre-industrial revolution, pre-technology, pre-individualism, and pre-science, and the list goes on.  In addition, Jesus spoke to very specific crowds, and all the New Testament writers wrote their works to very specific faith communities.

But not only is it impossible and problematic to interpret the moral imperatives of the New Testament literally or directly, it is also highly unbiblical.  The Apostle Paul’s message to all us non-Jews was that we Gentiles did not need to adopt law in order to be justified.  In fact, any set of laws was not necessary or appropriate for us.  He wrote this:

“Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.  For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”.  Love does no harm to its neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”  -Romans 13:8-10

“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify”  -1 Corinthians 10:23

“the only thing that counts is faith working through love”  -Galatians 5:6

“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself‘”  -Galatians 5:14

“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are no longer under the law”  -Galatians 5:18

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ”  -Galatians 6:2

“that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense til the day of Christ”  -Philippians 1:8-10

“Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from a sincere faith.”  -1 Timothy 1:5

In Paul’s story, he kept running into this problem of Jews trying to mount up the Jewish law upon Gentile converts.  But Paul knew the Jewish law of eating kosher, Temple worship, resting on Saturday… all that was for a particular context, and that context didn’t match the new context of his Gentile communities throughout the Mediterranean.

Paul knew that the Laws of the Old Testament as well as his own moral imperatives were never meant to be universal and literal for all places everywhere.  Instead, “the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (gal. 3.24).  In other words, Paul found laws helpful, but not authoritative.

Paul’s only universal law was love.  Love God and love people.  That is the purpose of any scriptural commandment, and the moment your literal application of that commandment impinges upon your ability to love from a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith, you need to release it (mat. 18.18).  Together as we grow in the love of God, we use the commands of scripture as a foundation and guide to deciding what is right and wrong, while ultimately, love is the fulfillment of the law.

So when Paul wrote that women should wear head coverings in 1 Corinthians 7, what he meant was that in that community’s context, for whatever reason, women bearing their heads would have fallen short of loving people.  Not that you women need to wear silly hats to church.  Certainly not that.

So no more Bible beating!  As we Christians argue back and forth about war and pacifism, women in ministry, same-sex marriage, material wealth and every other “sin”, we need to stop quoting individual verses as if they are the final word.  Instead, the penultimate word is love and the ultimate word is Jesus.  As we abound in love, we use the stories and imperatives of the Bible as a foundation and tutor to help lead us to truth.

Even Jesus, ministering to Jews with no intention of usurping the Jewish law and lifestyle for them, said it this way:  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the first and the great commandment.  And the second is like it:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”  (mat. 22.37-40)  And again, “This is my commandment, that you love one another”.  (jon 12.15)  Love is hard, challenging, radical, and world changing.  Sometimes, it feels like being stapled to a cross.  Sometimes it feels like stepping out of tomb you once slept in.

When we try to interpret New Testament commands directly and literally, we end up being irrelevant, arbitrary a-holes.  I mean it.  We end up being homelesss, naked, jobless, starving lunatics. We fail love.  Jesus didn’t die to give us a new set of rules to live by.  He gave us just one.


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…on “Speaking of Jesus”

Just finished “Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Non-Evangelism” by Carl Medearis.  It was a pretty quick read and it was one of the best books I’ve read on evangelism.  Thats not saying much… I’ve only read a handful of such books.  But for anyone who has any inclination towards hoping to lead other folks to Jesus, I’d highly recommend it.  Admittedly, its a rather minimalist approach to evangelism as well as Christian faith in general, and I think thats why I like it.  At any rate, this guy Carl has spent his entire adult life as a missionary in Lebanon “evangelizing” Muslims.  He’s got the credentials.  Meanwhile, he portrays himself as someone admired and befriended by even the sharpest critics of Christians.

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…on church marketing

This church website left me speechless.  I don’t even know what to think about this.  Watch the entire intro.  This is seriously the most bizarre thing I have ever seen.


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