Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Serving God in Respecting Others...

"With the tongue we bless the Lord and Father, and with the tongue we curse those who are made in the likeness of God." ~James 3:9
"Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker,// but those who are kind to the needy honor Him." ~Proverbs 14:31
Even when people do not respect and honor themselves, those who call themselves Christians ought to respect and honor ALL people: "So God created humankind in His Image,// in the image of God He created them,// male and female He created them" (Genesis 1:27). Perhaps individuals at times do not deserve respect, but that is beside the point, because our treatment of others is a reflection of how we view God. And He always deserves our respect. 
Even our good deeds, in the name of Christian charity, can be misplaced in our hearts. If a person truly wishes to help one's fellow human beings, of whatever creed, ethnicity, or similar group, this person does not help in the nature of Christ if he or she sees himself or herself as "doing the other a favor," as if this person's status here on earth makes him somehow worthy of doing others "favors." 
If I have ANYTHING to give to the other, I only have it because God first gave it to me. We are not called to simple charity for our fellow man, but we are called to serve. I have no true hope to offer another if I cannot place myself beneath the other to serve, as I wash the other's feet. Only then can I understand, in some small way, the other's dreams and fears, hopes and needs. If I cannot or will not serve the other, I need to keep my grand suggestions and enlightened thoughts to myself, for I am unworthy to help this person made in His image. 
If Christ, our model, who was deserving, showed us the way of God by placing Himself under us, as to wash our feet, how much more should I, an undeserving sinner, humble myself in the service to others:
"Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
"who, though He was in the form of God,// did not regard equality with God// as something to be exploited,// but emptied Himself,// taking on the form of a slave,// being born in human likeness.// And being found in human form, He humbled Himself// and became obedient to the point of death--// even death on a cross." ~Philippians 2:5-8
It doesn't matter if such service seems practical, for the way of Christ appears to be anything but practical: "For the message of the CROSS is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (I Corinthians 1:18).
If respecting others is not popular for the right or the left, and I see little example from either side that it is, I will err on the side of grace. 
He still has a lot of work to do in my heart. Thank God for His mercy

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Illegal Ministry?

What? Is this for real? Relevant Magazine revealed that  a ninety-year-old man arrested for feeding the hungry. Sadly, I can imagine a few "defenses" people might create for the city of Ft. Lauderdale, FL. I can imagine someone saying that feeding the homeless is not "outlawed," only the feeding of homeless on the streets. True enough. They could always get a hot meal in a shelter. Does that make this situation better? You know what that argument sounds like to me? It sounds like the same argument the park rangers use concerning bears. Bears can eat in the woods, safely away from people, but do not feed them here. That will only attract them. This is not where they belong. This is a fine argument for animals that put us in danger when sharing public space. Guess what! These people are not animals. 
I understand that feeding the poor and hungry might draw more to that area and we upright, hardworking citizens would rather not see our city tainted by the poor. So, as the argument goes, let's not encourage them. If we don't feed them, they won't stay. Okay? Who has that helped? If they are not homeless here, does that somehow mean they won't be homeless elsewhere? We have pushed the situation, and, therefore, a glaring reminder of our brokenness, away from sight, and the poor are still poor. Here is a man who has joyfully served as he has been called to serve, and, yet, I can imagine other Christians will say that he should allow the system to work. Really? We want the state to do the job of caring for others? What will the church do then with all its newly found free time now that we do not have to care for the oppressed any more, because the Empire is doing the job? While we are at it, why don’t we just try and see if we can get the state to evangelize for us too! Let's all retire and go to the beach! Come on! 
We too often try to legislate our ethical duty to care for our fellow human out to the state, and we support or critique this process depending on how it benefits us, not the other. Let's have the decency to, at very least, be consistent. If we begin to allow the state to decide where the homeless can and cannot eat, then how can we be a people who think the church should do more for others and not the welfare system? How can we be a people who would not stand up for this man, who, instead of allowing the government to legislate how we should take care of the poor, puts his own hands and feet to work.
I do understand that having a high population of homeless persons in a city can be an issue. So, should the state not do something? Perhaps it should, but it should not be a quick fix that ignores the real issue. Christians should settle for nothing less than justice and mercy for those in need. If legislation comes our way that will help mitigate the homeless situation and at the same time be helpful to the homeless, I can see why we should support. However, until that day comes, we should only applaud men like this. “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;//remove the evil of your doings// from before my eyes;//cease to do evil,// learn to do good;// seek justice,// rescue the oppressed,//defend the orphan,//plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:16,17). Maybe more to this story will come to light, and I will have to reframe the way I think on the issue, but, with the information I have, I just cannot help but feel deeply saddened and disappointed that we live in a country where some would choose to mandate restrictions for helping others. Lord, have mercy. 
It is not as if this man was doing this for attention. He fed the poor for years and years before this law passed. He was only continuing the ministry he had been involved in for years. You better believe that if and when the state makes my ministry illegal, I will be doing it nonetheless.
In an article on FOX News, which had a bit more information, the city seems to try and frame this as a sanitation issue…
The article goes on to what I suspect is the real issue: "Cal Deal, a 65-year-old former journalist who videotapes homeless people in the city and says they commit crimes, cause sanitation problems and need more help than simply food… ‘The people feeding them are enablers, and they enable the homeless by making their lives easier,’ Deal told the New Times of Broward County. Hunger is a big motivator. Are people more likely to seek help when they're hungry or when they're fed and happy?’"
He was arrested again. The mayor claims that the reason behind the new ordinances is sanitation.

The mayor's response is ridiculous. I would like to see the study the city did to ensure that the new ordinances were necessary. I bet there has been no such study. If so, why not cite it?  I wonder how many people became ill because of this man's ministry. Until they provide real evidence, I have to suspect that they have no real evidence that there needed to be stricter regulations. It seems that these "concerns for health" are just excuses for the real reason for limiting how people can serve the poor. It seems the city is to trying to rid the streets from as many homeless persons as possible without really taking care of the issue. Out of sight, out of mind. I would love to be wrong, but until they start showing real evidence, instead of simply saying the new rules promote better health, I will never assume that feeding the homeless as this man does is a bad idea. I agree that, as Christians, we need to comply with the law as much as possible, but when that law limits our care for those in need, I think our calling to serve the oppressed trumps man's law. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Why Should I Proclaim The Truth?

There are some moral stances that we seldom question. Why is it important for me to love and not hate? Why should I refrain from selfishness? Why should I not murder? Our monolithic answer is often the same for these and many similar questions. Short and sweet: It is simply right. An even more pointed response for the faith community might be: Because God said so. We never stop to ask ourselves why we should believe certain obvious truths; we just do. On one hand, this is probably a very good thing. What if we were so uncertain about morality that we had to stop and question everything that we wanted to do? Life would be miserable and paralyzing. We would not get anything accomplished.

On the other hand, could it be the case that our lack of explicit moral reasoning on some of the most basic principles could lead us into misusing our moral convictions, even when we can say, “But, God said”? Why question God, right? Simply put, we question what God tells us to see the heart of God. It is not just important to know what God said, but why He said it. Just look back to the Sermon On The Mount: Jesus took several moral positions that, for the faith community, had been firmly decided for centuries (and grounded in God’s Word at that) and brought them out into the light of reconsideration.

What does He conclude? First, He demonstrates that the knowledge of the law was fairly common. To all the disciples He says, “You have heard it said…” In other words, “Common knowledge for this community has said…” They knew how to answer the questions surrounding murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, retaliation, dealing with enemies, and the list goes on. Second, from His silence on the issue, it would seem that, perhaps, they were indeed doing fairly well at practicing this common knowledge, at least outwardly. His challenge is not, “You have heard what Scripture teaches, why are you not obeying?” Instead, He is says, “You have heard it said…but I say…” In other words, “You know what Scripture says, but you are not practicing truth for the right reasons, because, if you were, you would understand the deeper reasons for these common truths.” For Jesus, the following of the letter of the law was not enough. We must get to the heart of the Word.

Jesus wanted to get to the heart of the matter. Jesus did not want His disciples to simply stand in accordance with the Scripture’s commands, because it was a religious and cultural expectation for them to do so, but He also wanted them to be centered in the heart of the Scriptures, which is not simply meant to inform a course for right behavior, but is evermore meant to transform the heart. In all our daily decisions, the Word of Truth is to be a living Word. We do not do good simply because “God said so.” If this is our only motive for doing right, we fall prey to rote, religious ritual. In other words, we do right because we want to somehow do what we must to appease God. Nothing seems to anger God more.

Making God’s calling upon our life into ritualistic practices, like praying everyday because God wants me to pray, or reading the Bible because that what a good Christian does, is no different than Israel’s performing rituals, like sacrifice, to appease God, instead of expressing an inner heart to do God’s will. Ritual was meant to be a beautiful practice of family tradition for the community of faith, a means to connect with God and receive His grace, but, when the people accessed ritual, they often did so, not to celebrate anew the foundational blessings of God that His people had been experiencing from an ancient past, but instead for appeasing God. God was not fooled. Instead, He was moved to anger, for the people had willingly withdrawn into ignorance, ignoring the purposes for God’s gifts, such as ritual:

What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the Lord;

I have   had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of fed beasts;

I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats. 
When you come to appear before me,    
who asked this from your hand?
Trample my courts no more;
bringing offerings is futile;
incense is an abomination to me.

New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation—
I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.
Your new moons and your appointed festivals
my soul hates;

they have become a burden to me,
I am weary of bearing them.
When you stretch out your hands,
 I will hide my eyes from you;

even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings
from before my eyes;

cease to do evil,
learn to do good;

seek justice,
rescue the oppressed,

defend the orphan,
plead for the widow. (Isaiah 1:11-17)

God’s indictment is clear: Israel’s outward religious acts not only do not suffice when uncoupled from a pure heart, but they disgust God. While the modern community of faith, the church, does not have as many rituals as ancient Israel, we still have our own set of commands from God that we often routinely participate in, and we must be careful not to slip into doing them out of mere habit, simply because it is what is expected of us, because, “it is right,” and “because God said so.” Our actions should always be an overflow of the heart.

You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart…
For you have no delight in sacrifice;
if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise…
                        then you will delight in right sacrifices… (Psalm 51:6,16,17,19a)

The practice of truth cannot be simply an outward performance, but living out of God’s word must be an overflow of the heart. It is certain that sometimes what we should do does not always align with what we want to do, and we are still expected to do the right thing. However, we should never forget why we do what God asks, even when we do not feel up to the task. We are to long for the heart of God, to do His will because our hearts move with His. We might not always feel as if we are there, but this should be where we are forever moving. So, back to our original consideration about those basic ideals we know to be right and good simply because they are right and good.

We better not simply practice good moral behavior out of some desire to appease God. It is not good enough to want to do right because we do not want to upset God. We need to do right, because doing right comes from a place of love. Israel had missed this point, and, because they missed it, they were no longer working with God to bring justice to the oppressed, but were enjoying ritual celebrations simply because they could. Not only did religion become about appeasing God, but it soon became about selfish pleasures. Do we ever use God’s truth for our own benefit? Do we ever justify our selfish actions in the name of God? The Scripture suggests that if we do, we might be in real danger.

Now that we have explored the importance of not only knowing what actions are right, but knowing why they are right, we can ask about the application for today. What might be a modern day practice of God’s Word for which many lack the conviction of the heart? I think that truth telling is something we believe is right and good, but why we tell the truth might be something we practice, not for God’s sake, but often our own.

Think about the oft-used phrase: “The truth hurts.” Why do we say this? We say this because we want to tell someone what we think, and we want to feel justified for doing so. We often critique others in the name of telling the truth. We have equated the idea of giving advice (or critique) with truth, so much so that we feel as if the person who we are advising, if they do not accept our advice, might as well suffer the consequences for rejecting truth. Truth, then, becomes something we use to have others comply with our version of the ideal. What is so wrong with this, especially if the advice comes from well thought out Christian standards?

First, this sort of truth falls too short of the Christian idea of Truth, which is not just rooted in ideas, but in the person of Jesus Christ. To understand this Truth is not to comply with simple ideals, but to be in relationship with a personal Being, one who leads, not simply by giving us a step-by-step instructional on the how-to of life, but leads and proffers truth in trusting relationship, what many would call, “a daily walk.” Second, telling truth becomes a means of control, even while the Scripture tells us that Truth is to set the recipient free. Even if our typical truth telling is good advice, if we simply ask others to follow our truth without offering them relationship, as Christ offers Himself to us, we show we really do not care for the individual, but simply care about them living up to our expectations for them. If we really were offering our “truth” out of love, and we desired to follow the example of Christ, we would also walk in truth with these people in relationship. How hard can that be, right?

Let’s go back to God’s indictment of Israel in Isaiah 1. Here we see God telling Israel that all the outward rituals in the world could not fulfill God’s expectations for them, but do you know what can? He tells us: “…remove the evil of your doings// from before my eyes;// cease to do evil,// learn to do good;// seek justice,// rescue the oppressed,// defend the orphan,// plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:16b-17). God is telling Israel that all the religious acts in the world cannot take the place of loving acts of faithfulness, as we share the love of God with the oppressed. James repeats this sentiment for the church in his epistle: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (1:27).

How might our truth telling be related to all of this? Let’s go back to our normative Christian practice of telling truth, even when it hurts. In the conservative, American church, our dealings with the poor and the oppressed often come, not through government welfare, which many conservative Americans (myself included) find ample fault with, but in advice giving, giving them a hard dose of reality (which I do not find to be the answer). We repeat the old adage: “Give a man a fish…Teach a man to fish…” Some even assume this is not just scriptural, but actual Scripture.

We need to ask ourselves, from what standpoint do we say, "Well, I think that the poor just need to learn to take responsibility"? Is this from a purely caring place, because we actually believe what we suggest is indeed best for the poor and we love them enough to say so? If so, should not each of us that say this have caring relationships with the poor as Christ did? Or do we often speak from a place of want for security. If the poor were more responsible they would be safer to live around. American society would be better off. If we simply critique the poor and offer no real hand through relationship, I think we readily enough show our own selfishness in our “truth telling.” This is no truth at all, for truth, even though hard to hear at times, is meant to be restorative, uplifting, and relational. Instead, we use the idea of truth as a means of guilt and control, and as a means to justify ourselves when we think about our calling to serve the poor. “Am I serving the poor?” “Well, I certainly have offered my opinion on the matter of being poor.” This gets us away from real truth telling, which is difficult, because it calls us to love. We must not just want to fix the poor’s problems, but must first desire to love them, no matter how they respond to us. Is this were truth leads you?

Telling the truth cannot be divorced from living in the truth if it is to be real truth. If, then, we want to tell the truth, we better be on board with living in it. If we believe the truth is restorative and we are Christ’s hands and feet to bring healing to this lost and broken world, then we better be on board with the repair Truth calls for. If we want to see truth in action, well, we better get to it. If we tell truth, we cannot do so from afar, critiquing the world with the attitude, “Well, if they don’t listen, it is their fault.” Jesus tells us to “Go!” proclaiming truth through loving relationship, Christ-like example, and virtuous discipline. If we cannot tell truth from this place, we cannot speak truth at all. Christ is the embodiment of truth, and He has asked His church to be the embodiment of His way here on earth. That just might mean we make sacrifices for those in need.

More on truth telling coming soon…

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Killing Terrorists Is Not Funny

The world has proven to be an especially crazy place the past few weeks. Having been bombarded with so much lately, I have, with many others, shared a lot of (what some might consider) idealistic thoughts. If too much is said too often, then others might not know when to take one seriously. In other words, if one preaches too often, people might think this person has no time for practicing all those things he or she is espousing. For this reason, I plan to quiet my ethical rhetoric on my status updates for a while, but, before I do, I have one last thing to say, at least for the moment. 

I understand that in this present world, nation will inevitably rise against nation, that there will at times be people, even groups of people, who will want nothing more than the destruction of others. For this reason, it is necessary for nations, if they are to survive, to protect themselves against threats. Now, I also believe many nations war in the name of defense when the root cause is something completely different. Having said this, I do believe we are seeing real hate being portrayed on the world stage by the militant group known as ISIS. 

This group has given us little room to judge them as anything less than cruel and vengeful. Therefore, I can understand the need for nation to rise against nation, for one group to set out to destroy the destroyers, but that does not give us license to delight in the most serious of human decisions: to take life from others. When we send our troops off to war, we are asking them to put their lives on the line while they go off to take the lives of others, and, because we ask them to go in our stead, we want to be supportive. However, there are right and wrong ways to go about this. 

Making jokes, concerning the slaying of our enemies, especially while sitting comfortably away from combat, or from the raining nightmare of bombs from the sky, is unsavory. Some things are just too solemn to be threaded into a joke. War, in all its forms, especially since it cost the lives of the innocent and the guilty, is anything but funny. The soldier knowing this might at times make light of his (or her) own situation and what he has to do as a means to cope with his reality, but we, the citizenry, need not do the same; yet, we often make fun of the deaths of our enemy, because we finally feel vindicated. 

We tell others who often speak of the ills of war, “I told you so,” and our gloating turns sour. We become delighters of death. We become well-wishers of war. We become grinning cynics of peace. The Christian should not take the religious worldview of another group, even if it is a radical fundamentalist group, and turn their deaths into a joke about what truly awaits them in the afterlife when they finally meet the true God by twisting their religious views into something humorous (I do not feel I need to elaborate all the ways we laugh at the fictional afterlives we have dreamed up for radical Muslims). 

We should not make light of asking someone to kill for us, nor should we delight in human death of any kind, even when we can say it is justified. Moreover, we need not feel unsupportive of our troops if we feel horrified by war; many of our troops are also horrified by this reality (I see the quote, “War is Hell.” most often from my friends currently or previously in service). However far removed, and however different, we are talking about human life here: “Say to them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live” (Ezekiel 33:11). You may now carry on. For a time, I will save my thoughts for my blog and otherwise focus on practicing my ideals in the real world. 

Bright blessings to you all.

You Are A Masterpiece

Here is another Facebook status I wanted to save here on my blog:

We are God’s artwork, masterpieces that move with the Craftsman’s guidance, and, yet, we are artwork that is itself commissioned by the Artist to be a part of our own making. Any artist who has worked with clay, as well as other mediums known to fail well within the process, will know the patience it takes to learn the art. They will know the frustration of simply working with faulty materials. They will know the frustration that either drives aspiring artists to quit, or inspires the artist to start again, knowing that art does not always cooperate and, in this, provides opportunity for the artist to mature in his or her expectations. 

As a medium for God’s creativity, we certainly prove to be a frustrating sort. We are not our own, but often, as the gentle Craftsman moves, we resist and crumble. Because God gives license to His art to continue the path of becoming, we often can frustrate the great Craftsmen in denying our basic purposes for becoming better and being shaped in the goodness of His likeness. We move in the wrong directions and we fail. Yet, He continues to invite us in the process, and while He has goodness and Christ-likeness in mind for each of us, we need not think that we must hit a target perfectly to please the Artist. He gives creative license within the bounds of His limitless life and opportunities. In Him there is freedom to be fully human and we still know not the potential this freedom given from our Creator provides. 

We must be His whatever we are, for we are created to be His, but in being His, we are explorers of faith, forgers of mission, and disciples called to express so many things of God that a lifetime of molding will not make us what we are eternally meant to be. And, just to demonstrate the freedom of becoming, no matter how many countless lives are shaped towards the Image of God, no two persons will end up as the exact same piece of art. There will be shared similarities for sure, but as finite beings, we each have a chance to show various aspects of the limitless God as He sees fit. 

Even after death and glorification, while we will be perfectly good, we will not be perfectly static. We will continue in the process of becoming as we live an eternity of knowing God more and more at every turn. God takes His art seriously, and, yet, He gives us, as the artwork, chances to make mistakes, to find beauty by stumbling into it, and opportunities to start fresh. In the end, the process can be seen as a burden or as an invitation into a journey of grace and self-discovery, as we find ways to incorporate the life of God more into our being by faith and grace alone. What an opportunity!

On The Consumption And Abuse of Women

This post, like the last one, is a copy of a Facebook status that I want to save before it gets lost on my feed:

I was struck hard this week when I found out that a six-year-old girl we serve on the reservation was victimized by a man in her community. What can we say? How can such evil exist? What can I do to combat such immorality? Many times, such events seem so far removed from my life, but are they? During service yesterday, my pastor, David Yarborough, spoke directly and boldly to the men in the congregation and reminded us that the same spirit that directs our hearts to consume pornography is the same insidious spirit that leads men to capture women and children for sex trafficking. 

I could not agree more. This does not mean, however, that these two things are simply and loosely linked to some ethereal spirit of sexual immorality. Rather they develop from the concrete interactions of our normal lives in the fallen world. Our daily interactions, if not given over to deep consideration, inoculate us to the understanding of what is right and wrong by the smallest degrees. In my reading this morning, which I will quote from momentarily, I came across a reminder that the spirit that leads men to consume pornography, as well as to steal away the lives of the innocent, does not begin when young boys discover how to access the obscene recesses of the internet and become grossly obsessed. It does not begin with pornography at all. 

It begins in what we consider to be the mundane, ordinary, and non-moral dealings of everyday life. It begins in the simplest forms, like learning that, with enough money, we can buy many things to gratify our wants and eventually forgetting that some things should not be consumed. We have lost the sense that ethical decisions beset almost everything we do. We need voices like that of Dr. Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park (while he is speaking of science here, it can apply to most areas of life in which we are empowered to freely do what we may): 

“If I may... Um, I'll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you're using here; it didn't require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn't earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don't take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now...” 

Likewise, we often consume things without consideration of whom or where it came from, how it was made, and at what cost. We are free to consume what we will, because we stand on the backs of geniuses who formed a free nation and upon the soldiers who died for it. But, since we did not form it ourselves, we take little responsibility for how we use this freedom. Dr. Malcolm continues to critique Jurassic Park and, consequently, modern society: 

“Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should.” 

Just because we live in a nation that has made it easy to consume what we may, does that mean we should? We live in a world in which the highest value is placed on that which can be consumed. Consumerism is heralded as right and good, because it somehow represents “freedom,” but thoughtless access to wants is not freedom, but just another form of slavery, a slavery whitewashed to appear to be a sign of our blessedness: 

“No man who simply eats and drinks whenever he feels like eating and drinking, who smokes whenever he feels the urge to light a cigarette, who gratifies his curiosity and sensuality whenever they are stimulated, can consider himself a free person” (Thomas Merton). 

The things that people can use are the things our society values most. While consumption is natural part of life—materials must be gathered for housing, food must be harvested for sustenance, and water must be gathered for hydration—blind consumerism is the perversion of this reality. It is a reality in which we cannot come to appreciate that which should not be consumed or used (things like women and children). If it cannot be used, it is looked over: 

There are men “…for whom a tree has no reality until they think of cutting it down, for whom an animal has no value until it enters a slaughterhouse, men who never look at anything until they decide to abuse it and who never even notice what they do not want to destroy” (Merton). 

While the stars remind us of our limitedness as we can only see their beauty, but cannot touch it, our world is filled with men who obsess over leaving this celestial ball for the consumption of another. We can no longer see our dependency on this earth as our reality, because we can think of nothing more than to consume it; so, we will have to find more and more to consume. Likewise, beauty is no longer a reminder of the goodness of a God beyond us, but a mark for consumption. 

It is only a small step then to abusing the beauty of humans, especially, but not limited to, women and children. After years and years of considering the value in things only by how well they can be used, it is no wonder we begin to forget that some beauty is simply meant to be appreciated and not consumed. If this is true, then this also speaks to our sense of self-worth, how we value our own existence. We no longer appreciate the gift of “being,” but only see our worth in what we “do.” 

So, women (and even our precious children) also get caught up in investing in the evil that leads to their own destruction. If men (and women) only value what they consume, women (and men), to find worth, give others more to consume. Dress becomes more and more revealing, giving men more to consume, and posing for pornography becomes a means to feel loved and valued, because, as we all know, many, many men will consume you if you put beauty out in such a way that it can be used, used, in this sense, for base gratification.

 Eventually, lusting for visions of shorter and shorter skirts no longer feeds the spirit of consumerism. We must see it all. Soon enough, “tasteful” nude shots no longer gratify this spirit, only the obscene. Then, there are men who reach the end of this pleasure, and they seek to touch and to physically consume this beauty, and sex trafficking has then been given more reason to exist. 

We are all guilty and in need of repentance, even if we do not consume what others may. We may only consume, without regret, food to excess, television to excess, or drink to excess, but it is all the same spirit. We are teaching each other that blind consumption is acceptable. Men, be protectors of beauty, not vicious consumers of it. Do not invest your consumption in the exploits of women (or children). You may feel that you harm no one simply sitting behind your computer screen, but you are lending to the machine that consumes the innocent. Women, protect your beauty and know your worth is in your being, not in how much you allow yourself to be consumed. Open your eyes that everyday life is beset by ethical decisions, that our interactions with the world are not non-moral. If we do not think, we may be unwittingly feeding the machine of our own destruction.

The Tragedy of Suicide and Christian Response...

My next few posts will be copy from a few of my Facebook statuses. I would like to have quick access to these thoughts before they get buried in my feed. This particular response comes from all the swirling debate concerning the tragic death of Robin Williams. The cause of death was determined to be suicide.

With all the tragedy in the world right now, arguing over the eternal state of a person who has committed suicide seems ludicrous (especially since this is an internal debate that makes us-Christians-all look petty). We have misplaced our theological efforts. Should we not be thinking about how our faith could bring less suffering to those around us, how our faith might make us more suitable for bringing relief, joy, and peace? 

We worry so much about others and whether or not they are right or wrong that we have little time to actually make our theology practical, to live out our beliefs of helping others, of being love, of reaching out to the oppressed. We should judge ourselves sometime if we are to judge anyone. But, since we (the social community) are talking about this issue, let me say this, just as food for thought. 

I suffered depression many years ago in my early years of college. It was a horrible experience. It feels like a lifetime ago, and, yet, at the time, it felt like it lasted a lifetime. It is easy to pick out persons who have never experienced depression. They are the ones who say things like, "Why don't you just figure out what is bothering you and work on it?" "You need to decide to be happier." "Don't focus on it." "Pray about it." 

The truth is that, if I knew what was wrong, I would have loved to fix it. Focus was often impossible. Deciding to just be happy is ridiculous. Why not just say the same to a grieving person? As for prayer, I probably did more praying in depression than ever before or after. I know that many who spoke this way were just trying to help, but real help doesn't come in trying to fix the person, but in walking with them, in being there for them, by listening to them, about showing true concern for them, about motivating the other to find real help (instead of pretending you know how to help), in understanding that you might not get what depression is and that's okay. 

I cannot tell you how relieved I was when a friend of mine just said, "I can't imagine, but let's talk about it." Chemical imbalance is real, and it is torture. It is like being eaten alive from the inside out. I do believe God can and does help heal, but suggesting that depression in someway makes the sufferer less "godly," or that one's own sin has to be the sole reason for depression, is ridiculous and callous. We live in a fallen world that causes all sorts of deficiencies in the human being. Chemical imbalance is not a special curse passed on the unrepentant sinner, but a real part of living in a broken world, just like cancer, AIDS, and heart disease. 

Our suffering can take us to dark places, to sinful places, places where we should not go. Christ revealed to us that sin in the heart is just as blameworthy as committed sin, and, in the darkness of my depression, I committed the sin in my heart of wishing I were not alive, of taking for granted the gift of life. So, perhaps I am just as guilty as the one's that acted upon his or her wishes. Thank God He offers forgiveness and healing. I needed that. I am glad to say that I did get help, and I am much better today. In fact, it was something God used, in time, to make me a better person, a much more understanding person for sure. I praise God for that. 

But, what about people who go to those dark places and don't make it out? I like what Dr. Ben Witherington III said in his recent blog post: "One of the things I would stress when we hear stories like this, especially about suicide, is that a person should never be judged by the worst moment or moments in their life, even if it is their last moment in this world. The Bible says nothing about suicide being some kind of unforgivable sin. Judging people on the basis of their worst moments is certainly not how Christ evaluated people. People should be evaluated at their very best, especially if it is a consistent part of who they are over a long period of time. It is of course not our job, even if you are a minister to makes some kind of final pronouncement about a person’s eternal destiny. Only God knows everything, including that." Amen, Doc. 

We are all blameworthy for so many things, and often these things are things we did when we felt hopeless, lost, fearful, and desperate, because we live in a world that can be so dark and tasteless. Therefore, we should be willing to be understanding, forgiving, and caring. This does not excuse our acts, especially wrongdoing against others. In fact, for any one who knew me in the days of my depression (early college) that remembers my acting like a total jerk to you, I ask for your forgiveness. It was a long time ago, and I do not remember all the people I hurt, but you might remember. I am sorry. I really am. But, again, we all need forgiveness. 

We all go to dark places at times. If you are a Christian, you are called to be salt and light. You do not have to judge. You do not have to fix everyone. All you must do is be light and salt, bringing sight of hope in the midst of the darkness of desperation and godly flavor to tasteless situations, and most often that is summed up in being loving. We are the temple of God, and when we want to see Him break into the darkness, perhaps we are the vessels He wants to use to do just that. He lives in us. So, let's not waste our time theologizing about the lost and the hurting as we sit at a safe distance from them. Let's take our theology and put it to work for the oppressed, the sick, the lonely, and all those desperate for love.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Church and Culture Creating: Making changes that last…

I have referred to this before, but it is worth calling attention to once again. In his very popular song, “Waiting On The World to Change,” John Mayer suggests that the present generation of young people feels frustrated with trying to change the world for the better. Deep down, Mayer suggests, young people know that the system is corrupt and that calling for change in the present is close to hopeless. Therefore, we should not be seen as lazy when we complain about “the issues,” while doing little else to affect change. Instead, we are simply waiting our turn to be the ones in charge, and, then, we will make the difference.

I would have to agree with Mayer’s conclusion that “world change” is not a fight that can be won right now, but I do not agree with his solution, waiting for the levelheaded and enlightened youth to one day have a turn. The world will always be a corrupt place. Yet, this is no reason to admit defeat, as if, because the world around us is corrupt, no good can be done in the world. Perhaps, we are simply fighting the wrong fight. Is world change the right course?

The question is, “How do we do good?” For secularist, the only solution is to fix the world, because it is all we have. Again, I fear for this group that the world Mayer sees today will be the way the world is as long as this world exists. Christians, on the other hand, believe in a more permanent good, an ultimate good. Many Christians believe the best way to bless the world is to, in some way, impart this good upon the world itself. We have tried creating a Christian Nation. We have tried voting our views in place. We have tried social engineering. Can this work? Can the church “change the world”?

Indeed, the great irony with the North American Christian community's obsession with becoming world changers, as outsiders like Alan Wolfe and insiders like Ron Sider have documented, is that so far and on the whole we are much more changed than changing. The rise of interest in cultural transformation has been accompanied by a rise in cultural transformation of a different sort the transformation of the church into the culture's image.

(Crouch, 89)

As Christians, we must remember our relationship to the Kingdom, the Church, and the world, three separate, but interlocking political realities (poleis), three realities in which the Christian, in some way and by varying degrees, belongs.

It is true that Christ’s Kingdom is realized anywhere (including hearts) in which He fully reigns. The Kingdom of God is, of course, spread whenever persons accept Christ’s lordship, but it is also centralized—and we must not forget this fact—as the realm from which God reigns. That reality is transcendent, and, therefore, it is not to be understood as being fully accessible or fully here in this present age. Not until New Jerusalem touches down on the New Earth will the realms of humanity and the realm of God be fully united again. Until then, all Christians who are living (in this present life) have citizenry in New Jerusalem, but must live abroad in this world (Philippians 3:20, 21).

The world represents the realm of humanity, and, because of sin, a nation of the lost. It is the current realm in which we all live. We are born in a fallen realm, and, even when we are saved, we are left in this realm until we pass.  The world is a fleeting reality, because it is currently ruled by evil, and, yet, evil has already been defeated in the cross, which promises a final victory over evil. Thus, this world will pass. This age has a set date for closing. In the meantime, humans must try to do with the world what they can, because it is simply where we find ourselves. Thus, we continue to create government, laws, culture, homes, and so on.  The Christian, while a participant in this project, does not have his or her hope rest on this project. It is understood as temporary.

Even so, there is a sort of middle place, the church. The church is a diaspora, a polis without a geopolitical center. There are Christians in many, many nations; thus, our reality transcends boarders. The church is made up of all citizens of New Jerusalem that, even though we live, must die before we enter the full presence of the Lord (at least until consummation) and won’t be fully at home in the country of our citizenship until we enter New Jerusalem. The church can be understood as the sum of all those realities in which resident aliens (to borrow a term a title from Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon) take up the culture of the Kingdom while living in the world. Like the ethnic boroughs made up of dense foreign immigrants that take up space in large metropolises, we too make something of the space and time in which we live, importing cultural ways of being from the homeland. Like boroughs, we live distinctly different than the world around us, but we are still in the world that surrounds us and must in many ways move with it. Even so, we practice home life to remember where we truly belong and to share something of home with each other and our neighbors.

It is this taste of home that God plans to use to bring an allure to His way and His life (Matthew 5:14-16). When people of the world can see tangible aspects of the Kingdom of God by the actions of the Church, they too might want to take part, to give up their credentials of the world for citizenship in the Kingdom. As disciples, we have a longing to be participates in the Kingdom. Christians have what seems to be an insatiable appetite to leave their mark on the world, like scrawling one’s initials in the family stead as the framing goes up, we look to leave our own impressions.

However, if we want to leave our mark in a place that will leave a lasting impression, not just on the physical world, but on the hearts and minds of others, is a stud the place to do it? No. It soon enough is covered up. Leaving our mark on the world itself might be likewise foolish. This world will soon be covered up, and many realities come and go here in the world. The lasting realities are the church and the Kingdom to which the church belongs, and it is the church (not the fullness of the Kingdom), which the world can see. Thus, that is where we are to leave our cultural marks, in a place both lasting and visible.

At first, it might seem strange to say, “Keep your mark in the church,” but again, it is the life of the church itself that draws people out of darkness and into the light. We should be about and for the culture of the church for the sake of those dying in this world. If we want to leave an impression on people, culture is the place to do it, since culture, as we have already noted, overlaps the church and the world (we are here together and, therefore, in some ways, must move together). Therefore, if we wish to invest in cultural change, we must choose wisely how to do this. Again, I suggest we choose to create culture within the boundaries of the church for the sake of the world.

Investing in secular causes for the sake of justice might at times be appropriate, but we must remember that any change in the way the world works is fleeting. We have seen this reality time and again. Nations rise and fall. America might be a worthy investment, but it is only worthy to a point, because, whether we like it or not, the United States of America is not a lasting state. I can make investments in the home I rent, but it would be foolish to pay for any large scale change in this home, because it is not mine; it is not permanent. Going out to vote is not terribly costly. Lending our voice to our nation by writing our senators is not an unworthy action. But, investing all our time and money for “change” on large scale secular campaigns is, perhaps, unwise and, again perhaps, from a misunderstanding of our calling in this world:

From a Christian point of view, the world needs the church, not to help the world run more smoothly or to make the world a better and safer place for Christians to live. Rather, the world needs the church because, without the church, the world does not know who it is. The only way for the world to know that it is being redeemed is for the church to point to the Redeemer by being a redeemed people. (Hauerwas and Willimon, 94)

What people really need is not legislation or bust, but a more permanent solution, a place of belonging that promises that no matter what happens in this realm, citizens have permanent security. This is something that the secular world cannot promise, only the church. Shifting our thinking from investing our moral concern into the world at all cost and towards investing in the church regardless of the world’s movements, is a radical shift in perspective, but it is a more lasting cause.

What am I trying to say to you? If you are for helping the hurting, the oppressed, the hopeless, and the dying, don’t be about changing the city, state, country, or world around you as much as you are for investing in the life of your local church (and, perhaps, the church universal). Be a part of creating a culture that shows the people of your town that there is more to life than present comfort. There is a glorious calling to a way of being that is beyond this world.

-Andy Crouch. Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (Kindle Edition) p. 189

-Hauerwas, Stanely, William H. Willimon. Resident Aliens. (Nashville: Abingdon Press) p. 94