“The study of history is a powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance. It is humbling to discover how many of our glib assumptions, which seem to us novel and plausible, have been tested before, not once but many times and in innumerable guises; and discovered to be, at great human cost, wholly false” ~Paul Johnson
Friday, February 27, 2009
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
One day when we came back from work, we saw three gallows rearing up in the assembly place, three black crows. Roll call. SS all around us, machine guns trained: the traditional ceremony. Three victims in chains— and one of them, the little servant, the sad-eyed angel.
The SS seemed more preoccupied, more disturbed than usual. To hang a young boy in front of thousands of spectators was no light matter. The head of the camp read the verdict. All eyes were on the child. He was lividly pale, almost calm, biting his lips. The gallows threw its shadow over him.
This time the Lagerkapo refused to act as executioner. Three SS replaced him.
The three victims mounted together onto the chairs.
The three necks were placed at the same moment within the nooses.
“Long live liberty!” cried the two adults.
But the child was silent.
“Where is God? Where is He?” someone behind me asked.
At a sign from the head of the camp, the three chairs tipped over.
Total silence throughout the camp. On the horizon, the sun was setting.
“Bare your heads!” yelled the head of the camp. His voice was raucous. We were weeping.
“Cover your heads!”
Then the march past began. The two adults were no longer alive. Their tongues hung swollen, blue-tinged. But the third rope was still moving; being so light, the child was still alive…
For more than half an hour he stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony under our eyes. And we had to look him full in the face. He was still alive when I passed in front of him. His tongue was red, his eyes were not yet glazed.
Behind me, I heard the same man asking:
“Where is God now?”
And I heard a voice within me answer him:
“Where is He? Here He is—He is hanging here on this gallows…”
[Excerpt from Night by Elie Wiesel in Jon Pahl’s book Shopping Malls and Other Sacred Spaces: Putting God in Place (2003), p 36.]
Pahl excerpts this piece from Wiesel’s book, Night, a powerful narrative of living through the Holocaust. What struck me was how the narrative (this little story) moved my own thoughts about God is showing up and what is typically thought of on that subject. Of course, as good evangelicals (and, yes, I am still one) we know God can’t be seen (at least according to texts like John 1:18). So, we piously eschew the idea of seeing God “in person” anywhere. But that’s not what is being asked when we say, “Where if anywhere, is God?” (as Pahl puts it). Of course, this is a metaphorical question or idea. So when we ask the question Where is God? we are really not asking something about God, but something about ourselves. The short account from Night made me think: where we see God is where we show our emotions, give our time, and place our commitments. If we see God in a cardboard box, over a street sewer vent keeping warm from the night’s cold, we do something about homelessness. If we see God hanging out on the street corner, spray-painting graffiti on a store façade, we fight for programs to change lives. If we see God hunched over on a hidden park bench smoking a crack pipe, we develop soup kitchens and halfway houses and drug rehab-centers. If we see God, baby in toe standing in line for free bread and clothing, we develop self-sufficiency programs to break the cycle of poverty. Maybe we’d have more Christian community action if Christians would stop limiting where we see or can see God. Where do you see God hanging?
Saturday, February 21, 2009
“But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one” (Hebrews 10:32-34).
Sometimes interpretive insight is simply “connecting the dots.” Hearing a text read and remembering another text that sounds similar—connecting the dots. Just plain old paying attention helps, too. And, becoming familiar we the content of Scripture (for immediate recall and recollection) doesn’t hurt the “insight potential” either. (Just remember, not every text with the same words are meant to interpret each other. Contexts matter first.) This happens all the time to me: One Sunday, while Pastor was reading a text from Hebrews, I connected the dots. The above verses were the ones that caught my attention. My mind immediately went to Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:
It has always bothered me that the Matthew verses are used to get people involved with prison ministries as if that’s what Jesus was saying. Of course, Christians should be involved with prison ministries, but that was not the point in Matthew recording the words. (Again, this is worth a Rough Cut—some other time. Here, I am just connecting the some obvious dots…) I have always believed that Jesus’ words on visiting prisoners went with the overall theme of Matthew’s Gospel:
There was a certain portion of the church that did not want to work at incorporating Gentiles (‘outsiders’) into the fold, into the congregation, and in fact opposed such activities, and refused to believe that was the intent of the promises of the kingdom as fore-promised in the Old Testament, that is to include the outsiders, the Gentiles.
I take it that there were some, perhaps a minority, who took this task seriously and, as a result, it put them in “legal” jeopardy, and for some, jail. The Matthew text has been used to say that Jesus is in even with the criminals in jail—and that in visiting them (or not visiting them), you visit (or not visit) Jesus (“Me”). The Hebrews text indicates that the current (church) faithful identified with the faithful of the past who had been jailed because of their faith. Later the writer of Hebrews says:
“Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3).
In Matthew 25, he starts with parables of the in-breaking of the kingdom and how people respond (and not respond) to this new redemptive era. The juxtaposition of the parables (i.e., unfaithful bridesmaids who were not prepared and the unwilling servants to bring about the desired end of the master) and the judgment at the end of the chapter (where our Matthew “visit the prisoners” text is found) suggest that the parties involved are related to what it means for the kingdom to be present and what the followers of Christ are to now invest (do). Hebrews 10 and Matthew 25 might be talking about the same thing, suggesting that the prisoners in Matthew 25 are there because of their faithfulness to the promise of the kingdom. At risk to their own lives they worked to bring the grace of the Gospel to outsiders; we, too, should, at a minimum visit them in prison (or whatever the dyanamic equivelant is in application today) and, as well, more so identify with them in the task, because we, like them, understand the promise of the Old Testament to bring in the outsiders into the fold.
Friday, February 20, 2009
“Can never be lost. Someone’s already worked the way” ~Special Agency Don Eppes, CBS’s Numbers
Monday, February 16, 2009
My daughter has been talking to her classmates (she is a sophomore in high school) on why smoking pot shouldn’t be so accepted. So many of her friends don’t care that the newly created hero, Michael Phelps, the multiple Gold metal winner from last summer’s Olympics, was caught smoking pot. She and I talked a little on the subject, because she wasn’t sure how to show them it matters. I gave her an illustration from a Habits essay I wrote a while go (post again below) and why living in a value-free world has consequences, many of them negative. Obliviously proud of my daughter’s ability to thinking christianly at school and be respected by her friends at the same time. If only we, adult Christians, could do that! Here is the same Habits essay I referred my daughter to and that I have already posted—but worth thinking about again.
You Meet All Kinds
You meet all kinds on airplanes. Just ask the sociologist from New York who found himself seated next to a young man decked out in multiple earrings, a fascinating hairdo, and ripped jeans. As they talked, the man perceived that the younger man had also clothed himself in a “modern,” value-free attitude toward life.
As the plane leveled off high above the earth, the sociologist decided to have some fun. He said to the young man, “I was talking to the pilot before we took off. He told me some real mind-blowing things. This is a real swinging airplane. They really hang loose, you know. None of this bit about no drinking when flying. In fact, they smoke pot right up there in the cockpit. They’re probably having a great party up there right now.”
Of course, by this time, the young man was not enjoying himself as much as his flying companion was. For someone who chose to live without values, he seemed strangely upset at the thought that the airline would allow its pilots to do the same.
It seems agreeable that the values we hold—our worldview, the lifestyle we choose—should also be acceptable and reasonable when others hold and express the same values. We should welcome, then, those who express similar lifestyles and applaud those who express our values. However, we encounter times it would be better if they did not. We wake up to the reality that it can be displeasingly unacceptable and disturbingly unreasonable to see others act on our values and worldview—especially when it adversely affects our own well-being.
With the news every night and papers every morning, we wonder where in heaven’s name did all these cruel and horrible actions of people come from? The bombing of the innocent. Teenagers gunning down classmates. Day-traders turned gunman. The list continues to grow.
Steve Turner, an English journalist and poet, has poignantly written a worthwhile commentary on this:
If chance be
The Father of all flesh,
Disaster is his rainbow in the sky,
And when you hear
State of Emergency!
Sniper Kills Ten!
Troops on Rampage!
Whites go Looting!
Bomb Blasts School!
It is but the sound of man
Worshipping his maker.
We might enjoy expressing our values—the pleasures they deliver; the seeming freedom they bring. However, when those who opposed Christianity (and religion for that matter) even hint at value-denying or morality-mocking, we must all pay a price. We must accept how “others” express that same worldview—and sometimes personally reap the consequences of their actions.
Someone once quipped, “When God is dead, everything is possible.” And, the problem is, we do meet all kinds. At this point, belief in God and His revealed Word seems quite reasonable. There is great comfort in Jesus’ words in John 8: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Friday, February 13, 2009
“For 42 years I had made small, regular deposits of education, training, and experience…And the experience balance was sufficient that on Jan. 15th I could make a sudden, large withdrawal” ~ Captain Sullenberger, Pilot of US Air Flight 1549
Sunday, February 08, 2009
Our men’s groups that meets every Saturday morning has begun looking at the kingdom of God. The study leader focused our attention on Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount (chapter 5). Of course my mind wonders off the conversation—unto unknown paths. I found myself thinking of Jim Elliots’ famous line, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” That in turn made me think of our idolatries we often rather not consider as actual idolatries—like the “market” for one, hit me. Rather than in God we put our trust, the conserve argument places are trust in the “market.” Don’t say we don’t, now. “In the market do I trust.” Of course, as a conservative I eschew ultimate trust in government or the State, but it is folly and ignorance to think that a conservative idolatry is not happening when we appeal to personal responsibility and “leaving it up to the market” to develop our wealth and well-being in our society. On October 28, 1949, Jim Elliott jotted down in his journal those famous words we love to quote (but rarely apply to our public lives) and it wasn’t until the spears of death ran through him on January 8, 1956 (my mother’s 16th birthday and a year before I came to be on Dec 11, 1957) did he actually know what he could not keep was his life to be able to gain what he could not lose which was more than just eternity, but the life of the Auca tribesmen who had killed him. Jim was no fool. We need to learn how to be “no fool” in the public for others. I am trying not to be one myself.
Wednesday, February 04, 2009
As I have written, I am preparing another paper for the 2009 Evangelical Theological Society annual meeting, which meets (interestingly enough) this year in New Orleans and is on the subject of Personal and Social Ethics (how about that!). I have to submit a brief abstract for approval....here is a preview for my Words’nTone audience along with a potential working outline…
Idolatry and Poverty: Where the Private vs. Public Isn’t Enough
The issues of poverty are typically arranged in private vs. public dichotomies, arguments, and responsibilities, setting up a defective dualism and a convenient idolatry. The usual alternatives, issued by the opposing sides, are often limited to so-called “liberal idolatries” or “conservative idolatries.” The Christian community often finds itself leaning toward one, while making an accusation of idolatry toward the other. However, there is an overlooked juxtaposition of biblical warnings against idolatry and the stipulations concerning the poor and vulnerable (e.g. Ex 22-23). This paper explores the relationship between idolatry and the issue of poverty and, then seeks to offer another model or paradigm both for the debate itself and for potential outcomes.
The biblical concept of idolatry warns against a defective social construction of reality that diminishes the potential for positive outcomes for the economically vulnerable (i.e., poor) and promotes alienation and the idols of power. This paper will examine the biblical juxtaposition of idolatry and “the poor,” the relationship of the land to “the landed” and “the land-less,” and the private vs. public dichotomy, which is a convenient idolatry for those who benefit from both liberal and conservative idolatries and, as well, diminishes positive outcomes for the economically vulnerable and those living in poverty.
I. Idolatry and the Poor, the Biblical Juxtaposition
II. Idolatry, a Defective Social Construction of Reality
III. The Poor, Alienation, and the Idolatry of Power
IV. The Private vs. Public Dualism, a Convenient Idolatry
V. Implication and Action: A Third, Better Way
Sunday, February 01, 2009
“Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16).
The English word “you” implying the singular you and our contemporary western concept of individualism moves us to interpret verses addressed to “you” (like 1 Corinthians 3:16) as meaning “me.” We don’t bother looking up the Greek word Paul uses—it is plural, not singular (but of course you should look it up!). We also don’t take into consideration context—which Paul has already pointed to as being “the church” as a whole. The Apostle wrote in verse 9:
“For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.”
The “we” in the context of Paul’s reference to apostolic church plants is Paul’s entourage and the “you” is the Church at Corinth. I am not denying the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of the individual believer—He does indeed. But, that’s not what this text is about, and a forced privatized, individualistic reading of text’s like this leads us away from both the text’s meaning and robs us of God’s intentions for His Church. (I am planning a Rough Cut on this text in the near future—at least before I am 50!) But for now, my thoughts are simple: We should read this text…
Do you, the Church at Corinth, not know that you, the whole Church that inhabits the City of Corinth, are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells among you [a way better understanding of Paul’s grammar here]?
We think of Church as the Church at 98th Street and Vine. Or, we think of Church as those who attend Park City Church, or the First Church of the Way, or whatever the church name. We think geographically narrow with displaced members shattered at addresses in the area. We think singularly. We have a pastor or pastoral team and we are a church in the area—that makes us a church. Paul on the other hand sees the church wholly, the Church of…name that city like Corinth or regional like Galatia. When Paul thinks of building the church—we translate that into God builds “our” church. Paul thinks of foundation laying and God building the church as a temple where God’s presence dwells. The picture of “growth” that God causes is one where the foundation expands, and as a result the temple, God’s Church in a local (with all the connotations of God as King and ruler, the One who has the right and authority to rule) enlarges to cover more ground (geographically, socially, politically, demographically) and God who dwells in this temple expands His Kingly presence in new territory, both geographically, socially, and in people’s lives. I believe we need a new theology of the church, one that is not built on our western individualism, and certainly, not one built on the new-up-to-date praxis of hip and trendy redefiners of church life (which is again, only built on what American’s a like today as opposed to what they were like yesterday—pure idolatry!). But, one build on the text of Scripture.
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- Wasted Evangelism - Barriers militating against an open discussion on evangelism
- A thought on atheism’s problem with time
- L&S Quote - Thrust forward to a total testimony of salvation
- The Wasted Evangelism thesis—social action can be evangelism
- Wasted Evangelism-A long argument (my introduction)
- A working definition of biblical social action
- L&S Quotes - Dare to be right when the majority is wrong
- L&S Quotes - Evangelism isn’t table talk, it’s an emergency bulletin
- L&S Quotes - Don’t be pushed off your story
- A conclusion for my wasted sigificance and the Mark 3 commission
- L&S Quote - How holy women and men show their inner spiritual lives
- L&S Quote - This sounds odd: who lives, who dies
- Noah and the flood isn’t a children’s story (revised-reposted)
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer and getting our hands dirty
- Using Bertrand Russell’s own logic
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