“There are more idols than realities in the world; that is my ‘evil eye’ for this world; that is also my ‘evil ear.’” ~Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols
“The privilege of churches . . . can shroud the gospel in such middle- and upper-class consumer-oriented style and content that salvation subtly becomes more about providing a warm blanket of cultural safety than about stepping out into the bracing winds of spiritual sacrifice. Such patterns in a church’s life can easily, if unintentionally, lead to a focus on consolidating and extending power instead of identifying with the powerless. The former is a lot more like a comfortable bed to sleep in than the latter. No wonder we don’t want to wake up, let alone get up and get going in the work of justice.” ~Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship
We are taught, as evangelical Christians, (sadly by our church leaders, preachers in their poor interpretation and privatized sermons, and in our “at church” experience), to respond to anything that is not personal (that is anything that is “public") judgmentally--what I mean by “judgmentally” is politically. We respond through the lens of our definition of “American” rather than our identity with the One that hung on that cross. Additionally, the looting, the fires, the rioting (which has nothing to do with the actual issues facing minorities living in urban areas and is more wanton and organized by outsiders) is a distraction for the Christian. The MSM is distracting us with what and how they are covering this (and all these) events. The conditions that have led to both the black vs. police issue AND the rioters (note I said “rioters” not riots) is BOTH the result of--and this is where white suburban Christian ranters turn their listening abilities off--the result of BOTH the crony, senseless politicians in these urban setting AND the suburban, building-centered Christianity we have come to identify as our evangelical Christianity. I wrote about this in two of the chapters in my my book Wasted Evangelism: Chapter 1, “Widows in Our Courts” (based on Mark 12) and Chapter 5, “Idolatry and Poverty.” We, suburban Christians, are, in part, guilty (complicit) in allowing AND providing the foundation for the dynamics of these urban centers where these incidents and riots are now happening. We, too, are a people of unclean lips and dirty hands. Our ranting keeps us from that guilt, and hinders God’s redemptive power to be experienced among these people and for these fellow human beings.
From “Idolatry and Poverty”, A duplicitous, self-righteous double standard in the “burbs”
“Often, non-poor Christians respond to the poor as those living in a socially constructed reality that is mostly alienated from those living with the effects of poverty. The non-poor Christian’s participation in non-urban life causes a need for continuous reaffirmation of a biblical plausibility for their [own] social-location, which alienates rather than connects them to the economically vulnerable. Without a sociological imagination, many non-poor Christians are not fully aware of their own socially constructed exurban reality, nor how it has been formed, which can lead to duplicitous, self-righteous double standards toward the poor.”
From “Widows in Our Courts”
“Readers/listeners on this side of the text [of Mark 12] are not only urban congregations that have a natural association with vulnerable populations, but suburban and exurban church communities, as well, stand before the Mark 12 poor widow vs. duplicitous scribes episode. Churches located outside of urban settings are not exempt from being readers/listeners of this story [just] because they are removed from urban poverty. In fact the suburban and exurban church’s departure and distance from poverty might actually be a cause of poverty. Suburban churches should consider whether they are participating in the same socio-economic system that has removed social, financial, and human capital from the social service, housing, labor, healthcare, and workforce development systems that should be available to the poor in urban centers.”
These quotes and the quotes above are from my book, Wasted Evangelism: Social Action and the Church’s Task of Evangelism which can be obtained from Wifp & Stock or through Amazon and CBD.
When the government regulates wages, it is, apart from the market, actually determining the value of an hours worth of work, which in turn determines the cost of a service or product for the consumer. MinWage truly works counter to the free market. (It is, really, a type of price control.) In the end FederalWageControl determines how much a poor person (or an entry level worker) should make and then everything adjusts, so that person still remains on the bottom. Like I have said and argued before, it keeps poor people poor.
Focusing on “the wage” rather than the wage-earner is easy. It is harder to focus on the schools (and unions) that are leaving our children intellectually poorer and unready for the world of work. It is harder to commit resources for training and re-trainig. MinWage is another form of wealth distribution, but in this case making the employer do the (dirty) work; yet it is temporary, and will leave the untrained and unskilled wage earner, still at the bottom as the economy adjusts and costs of products, services, and housing rises. Pols will seem the hero when the MinWage rises because the ill-effects are delayed, but these will come. The pols that support MinWage hikes care less about the poor, than ultimately their immediate image and reelection.
Additionally, higher MinWage will also provoke the employer to hire more skilled entry level workers in order to have a more valued hour of work (productivity), which in turn will increase unemployment among the unskilled, under education, and undertrained, making it harder for the poor to find employment.
I am against minWage because I am for the poor.
I fully recognize and confess I read the Bible within a very right, suburban/exurban, mostly white hermeneutic, even from a privileged life that made it possible to read over (not see or hear) the vast amount of biblical ink on the subject of poverty and the poor. I repent and seek to be a better reader of Scripture, God’s inspired, inerrant Word.
Seriously . . . deeply impacted by the text I am preparing a sermon from for next week: Ephesians 3:1-6:
“For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles--assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
1. What are we (those claiming a call to ministry) willing to suffer so those outside can find access to the Father (3:11-12)?
2. Whatever we think of the issues facing the church today, we still need to fully affirm that ALL have access to the Father; for if all do not have access, then we determine who gets in and who doesn’t--which means only some have access to God. This, then, is NOT the gospel.
3. This passage is the “minister’s” (or lay-leader’s) fulfillment (the obedience) to Jesus’ words “take up your cross and die” and “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.” Reread Paul’s Ephesian text, including vv. 11-13 and say it ain’t so.
I remember telling some bible college students who were complaining about the rule to take off baseball caps inside,
“If you can’t take off those caps now, what makes you think you’ll be able to die for your faith in some god-forsaken land when all indication seems God has abandoned you?” Can’t help but think those words I have had to eat myself. Where is the sacrifice today? Where is my sacrifice, my willingness to suffer--really suffer, not figuratively suffer--for those outside who are in need of access to the Father”
Inner city teens and children facing the odds of continued poverty or death? Who is willing to actually do what Paul did on behalf of the Gentiles? Christians in the middle east living with an ISIS target on their heads? Where are our so-called missional Christians preparing to sacrifice their lives in the middle east--right in the path of ISIS?
Our comfort is our god, way too much. We confuse our desire to be safe, secure, and well resourced with God’s peace about our callings (as ministers and, as well, as lay-people).
This text is scaring the hell out of me. If you are a Christian, you shouldn’t be able to read Ephesians 3:1-13 with any measure of comfort either--and it should scare the hell out of you, as well.
Emil Brunner once remarked, “For every civilization, for every period of history, it is true to say, ‘show me what kind of gods you have, and I will tell you what kind of humanity you possess.’” For the Christian and Christian community, however, it is: Show me what kind of association you have with those living with the effects of poverty, and I will tell you what kind of god you worship.
Wasted Evangelism: Social Action and the Church’s Task of Evangelism, A journey in the Gospel of Mark by Chip M. Anderson
What is the relationship between the gospel and the church’s responsibility toward the poor? Can social action be evangelism? Wasted Evangelism is an exploration in the Gospel of Mark on the subject of evangelism and social action. A proclamation-centered definition of “evangelism” based on the etymology of the word “evangelize” and a few isolated proof-texts is devoid of much of the biblical content that Mark offers to us through his Gospel, detaching the concept of evangelism from the narrative meaning that Mark gives to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In Wasted Evangelism Chip Anderson develops an exegetically based, narrative understanding of biblical evangelism, which, according to Mark’s Gospel, includes God’s care for the economically vulnerable and his concern for the issues of poverty. The studies gathered in this volume propose that social action should not be considered a separate, distinct responsibility for the church, but is rather a vital component of evangelism. A close examination of Mark’s Gospel and the biblical texts associated with idolatry, poverty, and justice provides an opportunity for church leadership to rethink the evangelistic activities of their churches and to reconsider what it means to engage their surrounding communities as agents of God’s kingdom.
When is a church not the church (i.e., not the “fullness of Christ")?
When a church (i.e., church leaders of an addressed-church) pulls most, if not almost all, of its members and attendees away from their own neighborhoods to attend “services” and be involved with a building-centered church (somewhere completely separated from their own neighborhoods), that church-building (where a group meets as “a church") is then set in a neighborhood-less church. This negates at least in principle that THAT addressed-church is not the fulness of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23) in THAT place; but, merely a social group of people joined together in like values, with somewhat similar demographics and class, and seeking similar aspirations--a club, more than a church as the New Testament imagines a church to be.
"The Dynamics of ‘Inner’ Sacred Space (Eph 3:16): The Church-Temple as Revelation of God’s Reconciling Mystery and Its Potential for Church Growth Outcomes”
Some of the paper’s quotes . . .
“Furthermore, most building-centered churches are neighborhood-less, that is disconnected from the built space the addressed-church is located; the building-centered experience is designed to move people away from their neighborhood communities in order to develop and isolate the building-centered church community--again, separated from the built environment; programs and activities are designed to keep people returning to the ‘building.’”
“The prayers [1:15-22 and 3:14-19] are self-actualizing and actually fulfills what is requested of God on behalf of the Ephesus church--the prayer is initially answered as the believing community hears/reads the words of Paul’s petition.”
“In other words, Paul is helping to revise the church’s mental and social map of their world in that place (Ephesus et al.). As they had experienced before coming to faith in Messiah Jesus, the temples and their experience of the temples revealed and created habits that molded them according to the deities represented in and through the temple, now as God’s temple, they are to do essentially the same, reflecting God in Messiah Jesus. Their natural ‘bandwidth’ was limited by their previous social and cultural experience. As suggested in the words of Leonard Sweet, ‘When the root metaphors change, so does everything else.’ This seems to be what Paul is after in Ephesians.”
“There are enough hints, allusions, word plays, and inferences to draw the conclusion that Paul intends us to understand that ‘the saints who are at Ephesus’ are indeed God’s temple in contrast to the plethora of pagan temples in the region and who are the fullness of God ‘in’ Ephesus.”
“They are God’s temple, with Messiah Jesus as its cornerstone (2:20), a building created and being built, not by human hands of stone, wood, and metal, but by God’s words through his apostles and prophets as the work of Messiah’s death is made effective, filled with his Spirit, and ever expanding, right there in (a) place; built as a temple to reveal the mystery of God’s reconciliation work in Messiah Jesus. The reconciling work of the cross becomes flesh in (a) place. The local church, as God’s temple where his fullness is housed, is to be a revelation of God, his mystery in Messiah.”
“The habits of church life need to move away from the building-centered experience to be the church in (a) place: non-building-centered outcomes.”
“Church growth outcomes should reflect the realities of what it means to be God’s temple in (a) place: Outcomes measured in the language of neighborhood.”
“The local church as the ‘thin place’ and ‘the space between’ . . . “ ["Thin place” = a sacred place or space, the place where the unseen mysteries of the heavenlies and the concrete places of the earth meet, touch. A thin place is where one can walk in two worlds, where the two worlds are fused together, where the differences can be discerned. As someone explained: “A thin place is a place where the boundary between heaven and earth is especially thin. It’s a place where we can sense the divine more readily.” The church as God’s temple is such a “thin place.” “Space between” = the commons or transitional space or place where boundaries are fluid, a mix of human activity, specifically that space between the build environment.]
A clip on Sunday’s 60 Minutes showing a sold out crowded auditorium of dedicated followers, Neil deGrasse Tyson opened with this line:
“The great thing about science is that it’s true whether you believe it or not.”
To which the crowd wildly applauded and cheered.
Here’s the thing, no one in that audience (and probably most watching that 60 Minute segment) ever even thought of questioning his false statement. Yes, false.
You see, science is neither true or false.
DeGrasse said it all for show, to get around people actually thinking. Science, the discipline through which, using various methods, seeks to determine how things in the created world works. Tests are done. Data is collected. Conclusions are drawn. While it can be true or false that a scientific discovery (i.e., conclusion) has been made, or the data from the experiments and research is true or false, science itself is neither true nor false.
Scientists can draw conclusions that are true or false. And some conclusions are a leap that involves faith at its best. For instance, the existence or nonexistence of God doesn’t necessarily follow experiments that create “life” in a laboratory. Science does not answer metaphysical questions. Scientists and those who use science can believe science answers such questions--but that is sheer faith, not science.
In fact, many scientists see a Designer (yes, capital “D") behind creation and the known universe. The conclusions drawn after scientific experiments lead many scientists to see a Designer beyond the material creation, and thus further conclude that God exists.
I found it rather humorous that the premiere astrophysicist used such a line--either he is not as knowledgable as his degrees and bio suggests (which I doubt, for he is very knowledgable); or, he was conning his audience with a weasel statement or mere puffery in order to manipulate them. So, they’d respond with emotion, not thinking. I believe it was the latter.
After studying and writing on the Mark 3 Beelzebul passage about blaspheming the Holy Spirit (it isn’t what you think it is), I was fascinated by Mark’s use of the “crowds” throughout his Gospel. If we take Mark as inspired and the “crowds” as a strategic character in the gospel story, it seems to me we should grasp the “crowd’s” significance.
One specific characteristic of the “crowd” is they are always around Jesus, meeting and greeting him, listening to him, jumping over one another to be near to what Jesus was doing. Another, the “crowd” is sometimes believing and sometimes unbelieving, and sometimes, well, you just can’t tell one way or another. I have come to the conclusion that is the way it should be with the church, the local church today, who is God’s fullness, Christ’s body local. The church should be surrounded by the “crowd” (stop thinking just in a building). While the inner circle of followers and disciples are believing and learning obedience, the outer circle that surrounds the church (and sometimes crowding inside) is a little foggy on the issue, but they are out to be there--sometimes looking like believers, sometimes they won’t, and sometime you will just not be able to tell one way or another. We need to see the “crowd” around the church as a vital character in the church’s story in the community it finds itself home to.
Read the chapter in my Wasted Evangelism: Social Action and the Church’s Task of Evangelism:
“A Prelude to Judgment (Mark 3:20-35): The Beelzebul Episode and Its Significance for Evangelistic Social Action”
I was told today that it doesn’t matter what the Greek words exactly mean, for it is settled Bible and Orthodox Christian teaching concerning same gender marriage. I might still have issues with this subject myself, but I cringe at this position on the Bible and Christian Orthodoxy. Slavery and divorce-remarriage were settled issues also at one time by Bible and Christian Orthodoxy.
The same text used in 1 Corinthians 6 includes those in adultery, so that would mean those who marry divorced people, who the Bible says are then committing adultery, cannot and are not granted access to the kingdom of God. I guess I would be deemed unworthy of the kingdom as well since I am divorced and remarried to a divorced person.
I am thankful for those willing to battle over the text of Scripture, because the text is central to this debate . . . not our feelings, not our traditional views of marriage, not politics, nor our prejudices.
I believe that personhood and full and free access to the Father are the issues in this debate. I do see it a bit different than most. But with that said, the text is central to the discussion. Although I haven’t fully decided my own position on gay marriage, I certainly am not ready to make a stand where there is certainly interpretive disagreement by fine exegetes on both sides. I am disturbed to think settled theology can’t be challenged (on any topic). I would like a similar stand on those who are covetous, since those too cannot inherent the kingdom. Let’s see as much emphasis on the other adjectives and named types in that Corinthian passage.
Putting a brief summary together for a paper on Paul’s use of “inner man” in Ephesians 3:16 for the upcoming ETS Northeast regional annual meeting. The paper should also be a chapter for my next book on Church Growth, Not By the Numbers:
The Dynamics of ”Inner” Sacred Space (Eph 3:16): The Church-Temple as Revelation of God’s Reconciling Mystery and Its Potential for Church Growth Outcomes
Typically, church growth outcomes is limited to numbers of people and is verified by an increased averaged attendance at one specific type of event (i.e., a weekly worship service) in one room (i.e., the sanctuary or place where the weekly worship service is held) at a particular address or tallied as increased membership at an annual congregational meeting. This is a building-centered form of church growth, which is actually foreign to the concept of “church” in the New Testament. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians imagines believers “growing into a holy temple in the Lord” that forms “a dwelling of God in the Spirit” (2:21-22). This paper seeks to establish Paul’s “inner man” as a (corporate) temple reference (3:16c), which is an allusion to the “one new man” that is God’s growing church-temple.
A corporate reading of Paul’s “inner man” reference in the Ephesians 3:16 context reinforces the church-temple as sacred space and as such has revelatory power, disclosing the wisdom and mysteries of God (cf. 3:8-10). This implies that church growth outcomes go beyond numbers of people and may include social, demographic, and justice outcomes as well. This study will develop this thesis through (I) leveraging the concept of Sacred Space for a interpretive-model; (II) by examining an “individual” vs. “corporate” reading of Paul’s use of “inner man” in the Eph 3:16 context; (III) by showing how Solomon’s temple dedication and other Old Testament temple texts have implications for interpreting Paul’s “inner man” reference; and, (IV) how a corporate understanding of “inner man” denotes the revelatory nature of the church-temple; and, thus, indicating potential church growth outcomes beyond mere numbers of people.
I. Leveraging the Concept of Sacred Space reFocuses a Socio-Rhetorical Interpretation
II. Weighing the Context and the Burden of Interpretation: Individual or Corporate?
III. Potential OT Implications from Solomon’s Temple Dedication and Other OT Temple Texts
IV. The “Inner [One New] Man” Temple Reference and the Revelatory Nature of the Church
V. The Corporate Implications: Revelatory Church Growth Outcomes
I am preparing a proposal for a paper, which I am also designing to be another chapter in my book on Church Growth, Not By the Numbers, a journey in the book of Ephesians. Here is a draft for the proposal:
Title: Domesticating Church Growth (Eph 5:18-6:9): The Architecture of God’s Spirit-Filled Church-Temple (Wives-Husbands, Father-Children, Masters-Slaves) and Outcomes of Personhood
Our focus on numbers as church growth, that is the average tallied attendance in one room on a Sunday or the totaled at an annual meeting’s reading of a membership roll, creates a social reality that promotes “church” habits and attitudes that are antithetical to the gospel of Jesus the Messiah, potentially creating space that dehumanizes individuals, promotes inequality among populations and demographics, and views people as consumers to be targeted and the gospel as a product to be marketed. Church growth outcomes related solely to numbers of people in relationship to a building-centered church experience limits potential outcomes that reflect the imagery and trajectories presented in Scripture, particularly as imagined through the text of Ephesians. Paul’s reference to the “filling in the Spirit” (5:18) and the following Haustafel creates space to think biblically, even exegetically, about “church growth,” for the sacred space(s) currently in place (i.e., the typical building-centered church experience and business-centered bureaucratic church models) can be barriers for reimagining from the text a different narrative for church and church growth.
Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians presents the local congregation as God’s expanding ("growing") household-temple in the Spirit (Eph 2:21-22), making the “filling in the Spirit” command (5:18) related to (local) church growth, not simply privatized spiritual development. Commentators note that the household code (the Haustafel) that follows in Eph 5:21-6:9 is related in some way to the command to be “filled in the Spirit.” This paper will take into consideration that the household code, or domestic relations, following the filling command is the expanding structure of God’s Spirit-filled church-temple. The re-oriented domestic relationships in Paul’s Haustafel (Eph 5:21-6:9) are the church-temple’s architecture: the expanding sacred space created by the filling is the household code of wives-husbands, fathers-children, and masters-slaves. This suggests potential church growth outcomes related to “personhood.” The paper will develop this thesis through (I) how “sacred space” impacts our concept of “person”; (II) connecting the “filling in the Spirit” to the church-temple imagery in Ephesians; (III) developing a contextual reading of the “filling of the Spirit” command; and (IV) demonstrating how the Haustafel suggests a trajectory of church growth outcomes beyond mere numbers.
I. Sacred Space and the Concept of Personhood
II. The “Be filled in Spirit” Command and the Church-Temple Imagery
III. A Contextual Reading of the Filling of the Spirit: Ephesians 5:16-21ff
IV. Household Codes as the Architecture of the Church-Temple: The Trajectory of the Filling
V. Implications: The Significance of Personhood and Church Growth Outcomes
Facebook thoughts over the past two weeks on “Thinking more deeply about Christmas”
I am not so sure that our tamed version of the Christmas story is truly able to save to the uttermost, to deliver men and women from the deep despair, selfishness, suffering, and sordid wounds that scar our souls and minds. As my daughter reminded me tonight after the Christmas Eve service, we cannot avoid the fact that the Christmas story begins and ends in a death sentence--at every turn someone wants Jesus dead. But we have so tamed the story and have made it more palatable to fit on a Hallmark card or as background Muzak in our stores. There is lament blended with the angelic choir declaring peace and joy; and, it is through this lament (found in Mary’s song and in Rachel’s cry) that only this joy and peace may come. The wretchedness of humanity and the deep wounds of our neighbors are not cured by our tame, commercialized Christmas story. Think more deeply about Christmas.
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“I am sitting in church with my family and I am thinking that few if any of these people here know what it’s like to wake up afraid, in fear of their lives. They will wake up to food and presents and family, safe in their houses. It won’t be on their minds to think of everyone who doesn’t have the security, the privilege that so many of us ignorantly have. There are kids around the world that go to bed fearful for their lives and wake up so thankful they made it through the night; yet so incredibly frightened because they will spend the rest of the day afraid. What a privilege it is to not wake up afraid” (by my daughter, A. Hawley Anderson). And, may I add: think for deeply about Christmas.
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When the cliche is used, “Wise men still seek Him,” I wonder if they also include “where” do they find Him? The pageantry of American Evangelical Christianity tells us He is found amid the sparkle, high energy, glitter of showmanship and architectural theater. The wise men sought Him in the king’s palace. They were wrong. “Where” they found Him (in Matthew’s Gospel and based on God’s Word, I might add) was amid the poor, small, little town of Bethlehem, for which the prophets told us, didn’t amount to much (couldn’t in its day raise enough soldiers to protect itself). Wise people might still seek Him, but if and when they do, they are only wise when they seek Him in places that are insignificant--and following the Matthew 2 story--and where there is (the potential of) death and destruction to follow, for Herod ordered the slaughter of all the male two-year-olds and under (I assume in Bethlehem) in order to prohibit any potential insurrection to his power. Where are you seeking Jesus, the Messiah, born King? It matters where you seek Him, for where you find Him matters--and it puts everything at risk, for the power, elite, and affluent will seek to stop this humble king from disturbing their reign. Think more deeply about Christmas.
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“Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him’” (Matthew 2:7-8).
Don’t be fooled by power’s kindness and rhetoric about our faith. Those with power, whether thrones, government, or business, don’t take challengers to their power lightly. They feign worship to disguise their real intent: control any possible insurrection of their power. Power is never a friend to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Think more deeply about Christmas.
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Just saw a rather good tag line in a meme: ‘Is there room for me in your Christmas?’
There are so many people (do I really need to list them for you) that are wondering just that about our churches. Think more deeply about Christmas this year.
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Do your last minute, end of year, seasonal, Christmas donations to the poor make a happy moment for the poor, then leave them in the same condition before the donation? Sure it makes you feel good. You get a tax deduction. But the poor stay poor. Consider more systemic, strategic sacrifices, giving, and decisions that have long term potential to alleviate the conditions of poverty. Think more deeply about Christmas.
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At this season, of which we say we celebrate the all sacrificing Lord of Heaven and Earth relocating from the glories of heaven to be “nailed” to this poor planet, finding His first moments of incarnation in a dirty barn out back of an Inn, I wonder if we even think of following this king, who became poor so we could be made rich in grace? I see in the media and, as well, here on FB the pageantry celebrating the glitter of the commercial-version of Christmas, nothing--nothing--like the first advent. I am reminded at this time that so much of the church’s wealth, resources, and talents are so poorly distributed, being hoarded by the few. Explain to me how this displays the first advent in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 and the real meaning of Christmas? Think more deeply about Christmas.
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Think more deeply about Christmas . . . words from Miroslav Volf, “Poor is the church which relies on the power of the state.”
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“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).
The first moment of incarnation for the Son of God, the King of all creation, was to have no place, to belong a family who had no place, and to find a bed among barn animals in a musty barn out back of an inn. Why is it that modern followers of this King continue to want and seek to be incarnated in safe, affluent, well-membered, rich-in-resources places? Church, think more deeply about Christmas this year.
When we read the Christmas story in both Matthew and Luke, we should be struck at how unassuming and insignificant an occasion it was. The real Christmas story should destroy our paradigms that suggest bigger is better, leveraged popularity is the pathway for success, and privilege and numbers are needed to produce results and an affective rate of return for donated resources. Everything about the original Christmas story should shake the foundations of modern business-modeled church and mission. It should render celebrity and high professionalism dead or at least as nothing to God’s ways and plans. It should destroy our notion that numbers have a better scaling affect on mission.
Mary could have started a movement; but the shepherds returned to their fields. Even the large magi entourage (there were not just three wise men!) that could have funded the project left and is never heard of again. Reread Mary’s song, after it was revealed that she was with child by the Holy Spirit, is characterized by lament and irony:
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever” (Luke 1:46-55).
A young couple living with disgrace over an unplanned pregnancy, and what looked like sin, had to endure ridicule and eventual banishment to a foreign country. Numerous innocent children, two and under, were slaughtered as a result of this baby born in a dirty barn out back of a local, insignificant motel. The brief moments of rejoicing quickly fade in the story and we are left with anguish and sorrow, and confusing mystery. Nothing about the story as it is told in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 is neat, proper, and a platform for success; but is messy, harmless to history, and blatently left mundane.
The Christmas story is hopeful, nonetheless, to every regular, everyday person, not because it is a spectacular church or media production, but for it is insignificant, ordinary life at the margins. Like the poor, scandalous pregnant, unwed teenager sang, this Christmas scene in the gospels is about God showing the strength of His arm and, right there, he destroys the proud and arrogant thoughts of our hearts.
Think more deeply about Christmas.
Trouble in the making here (you are warned!): I feel the need to make a comment on all the posts from Christians and conservatives concerning businesses, especially Big Box businesses, closing down for Thanksgiving.
First, it is no skin off their bottom-line backs and plays to the PR value of “appearing” family friendly. I will give that there is perhaps some sincerity in the shut downs, but really, the Big Box Stores have stock- and share-holders and Boards that ultimately care about the bottom line (store managers cannot independently shut down a franchised store on their own). Second, we’ve got to stop applying our suburban Christianity to the issues of our day (or what we suburbanites perceive as the issues of the day) as if that’s the only reality to which the Bible speaks. I find it offensive, frankly. And third, a cousin to the second, these Big Box stores hire low-income populations who are on the clock and will not get paid for the missed hours (all because suburban family value Christians have advocated and in some sense pressure for such a non-voluntary day off). I am all for scheduling as many as want to have the day off, but to blanket the entry-level populations with lack of funds for a day is another thing. For the suburban Christian to be a cheerleader for “closing down on Thanksgiving” is arrogant, culturally self serving, and, frankly, an act against the poor and low-income families in mass. Seems to me, contrary to following Jesus.
I know you want to set a good example, Christian, but it is your suburban example you are setting, not necessarily Jesus’. Please recognize there is not one verse or passage in the Bible that calls for you to advocate for shutting down businesses on the American holiday we call Thanksgiving (which by the way, is a holiday that highlights our disenfranchising the native Indians for whom we stole their land through violence in the first place--you go Christian!).
Family values-suburban style is NOT what the Bible calls for. Want to set a good example: move your families out of the sidewalk-less-suburban neighborhoods and into the more low-income and impoverished neighborhoods and really act like Jesus among your urban neighbors. Or, take your Thanksgiving meals into the city and share--after the days work is done for the good, responsible, hardworking people of our urban centers. Or, take out your checkbooks and payout to those missing a day’s pay because of your suburban family values. (Gonna get hate FB-post now.)
You have 365 days a year to make a difference. Stop sounding like a family meal around a thanksgiving feast is a Christian virtue. Die on that cross you so happily sing about on Sundays. Advocating for a work-free Thanksgiving day is an easy, cross-free, fake spirituality. Now I know there are many good intentioned Christians advocating for this; so, rather than take offense, think first about what I have said. Think Christianly.
Enjoy your Thanksgiving day--I do and so appreciate my mother’s and wife’s efforts to provide a feast. Advocate for the poor. Remember Micah 6:6-8:
“‘With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’ He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Thanksgiving day was not on God’s mind here.