Thursday, October 26, 2006

Paul's Redemptive and Self-Deconstructing Household Code

One of the most hotly contested passages in the writings of Paul is the household code found in Ephesians 5:21-6:9. Context plays a crucial role in the interpretation of this passage. Culturally, this letter was written in a culture that had strict patriarchical household codes. Compared to the household codes of the day, Paul’s is surprisingly progressive and redemptive…not to mention deeply subversive. In the context of the letter to the Ephesians, Paul is discussing what it means to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received”. Paul explains that this means pursuing unity in love, with a humble attitude (4:2-3). From that point on, Paul unpacks what it means to live in this way. Generally, it involves putting off falsehood, and speaking truthfully, not allowing anger to control you, and sharing what you have with the community. It also involves being thoughtful about what and how you are communicating. Followers of Christ are told to get rid of all relationally destructive elements, and to replace them with compassion and forgiveness. According to Paul, this way of life is made possible by/in the Holy Spirit…and not living this way “grieves” the Spirit. This is the context of Paul’s household code…and that context (particularly through 21st century eyes) makes all the difference in the world. Paul moves from general principles to more specific application for the different roles his hearers would occupy. Paul’s “household code” is written to the world he lives in. His main point in writing this is to call his listeners to authentically live out the Way of Christ in their world, in their time. However, this Way is deeply subversive, and if allowed to play out, subverts the code itself. Virtually all other household codes of this period locate everyone in the household in relation to the patriarch. On a surface level (at least from our perspective), Paul’s would seem to follow this basic form. When we look closer though, we start to see the subversive elements. First of all, Paul builds in reciprocal/mutual submission (this would be virtually unheard of in their culture). Secondly, Paul actually gives instruction to husbands (who normally could do as they pleased in relation to the other members of the household). He also makes the analogy of: as Christ is head of the Church, man is head of his household. This would present a striking contrast to “headship” as it was currently understood…not as tyranny, but as a headship of self sacrifice and one that considers the other members more important that his desires for himself. It would also cast him as a part of the organism (i.e. head attached to a body) rather than an autonomous individual. Next, Paul goes into the relationship with one’s children. Again, he builds in reciprocity, which was unheard of in a culture that simply considered children “property” and didn’t even assign them gender until they were considered adults. Next, Paul addresses the dicey (to us) issue of slavery. Again, he is simply speaking to the situation of the world he lives in at the time he lives in. Slavery was a fact, so he addresses slaves (not uncommon) and also masters (shocking) and he gives the relationship reciprocity. He also gives implies that the masters have a responsibility to treat the slaves as they themselves are treated by God, and he reminds them that God shows no favoritism. In short, Paul is telling each of them in very practical ways what the way of Jesus will look like when it is lived out in their particular situations and circumstances…in their world and culture. The subversive part is that if they live this out…it will necessarily change their world and culture.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Sin of Objectivity

Brian McLaren calls it "motivation by exclusion". The basic idea is this: We brand you an outsider and make sure you know you are an outsider until you clean up your act...then we might let you in. We exclude others (presumably) in order to motivate them to become what we (and presumably God)want them to be. This being the case, we discuss different behaviors and infractions as abstract concepts, trying to be as objective as possible thereby making it easy to demonize anyone involved in said abstract behavior or activity.

Problem #1: It doesn't work.

Problem #2: One must completely ignore the Way of Jesus to adopt this way of being "a Christian". I have suggested on several occasions that it would be a life-changing study for many of us to simply go through the Gospels and observe who Jesus interacts with and how he interacts with them. The simply fact of the matter is that Jesus intentionally includes "sinners", outcasts, and the downtrodden. He makes a point of not condemning them. He never even mentions Hell to them (he saves that for the religious people, like me). He eats with them. He goes to their homes and socializes with them. He defends them. He builds authentic, unconditional relationships with them. Jesus doesn't deal objectively with abstract concepts. He can't. He has faces attached to all of it. He deals with it quite subjectively, and as "wrong-headed" as it may sound, this is exactly my point. I can't deal objectively with the concept of homosexuality because my uncle was a homosexual who contracted HIV and killed himself. He's buried in an outfit that belonged to me because he didn't have anything "nice enough" to be buried in. I can't deal objectively with the subject of alcoholism because I've known too many people who have struggled with it. On the other side of the coin, I can't deal objectively with the subject of pedophilia because I have a 3 year old daughter and have spent my adult life working with teenagers. It's not that the Bible doesn't say anything about homosexuality, drunkenness, etc. It says plenty. The point however, is this...if we have so put up barriers between "us" and "them" that we can discuss issues without faces attached to them...if we can discuss concepts in a way that demonizes entire people groups...then we are not walking in the Way of Jesus. When people become objects, we've lost our way and our voice. If we approach the subject like Jesus did (building authentic relationships, sharing our lives, intentionally including "others"), I suspect it will make things a lot more complicated. I also suspect that we will see more lives change than we have in generations and that the Kingdom of God will break through in powerful and exciting ways.

Friday, October 13, 2006

In The Year 2000...

My generation gave up on progress. We remember those (unintentionally) funny little cartoons that pictured the future and all of the unbelievable inventions we would all have in our homes. I've been to Disney World and seen the attraction close to Space Mountain based on the same theme. It's funny in a novelty way now, though both were dead serious in the beginning. The fact is that we don't have flying cars or a refrigerator that makes our breakfast for us. It never happened. It never even came close. It's not that we haven't made's that all of our predictions were laughable in retrospect. This is exactly the phenomenon that Conan O'Brian gets so much mileage making fun of with that bit on his show. The entire reason the gag works is because the year 2000 came and went, and nothing spectacular happened. That's just it, isn't it? Everyone from Prince and Will Smith to self appointed Evangelical Doomsday prophets to Technology Geeks told us there would be something...and there wasn't. Not a bang...not even a whimper. Time just kept going, in exactly the same way it had before midnight. Nothing great happend. Nothing catastrophic happened. We woke up the as the same people in the same place when the sun rose in the same way it always had. "And there was evening and there was morning...the billionth day".
And it was really just the straw that broke the cammel's back. The generations before us had promised us great things. "The world is going somewhere" they said. "We know what we're doing" they said. Then I watched the Challenger explode on takeoff from a TV screen in my fourth grade classroom. Then the twin towers fell. Then the Columbia exploded on re-entry. The year 2000 came...and went with nothing much to show for it. And to top it all off, most of the things we thought would make the world better actually made it worse. It's not that we lost faith in the great stories...It's that we lost faith in the ability of human rationality and achievement to act on them in any meaningful way.
Oddly enough though, this I think presents a very interesting opportunity for the Gospel. I'm not talking about the "get rich quick" scam we passed off as the gospel. I mean the real thing. I'm not talking about pitching the right ideas to obtain the right reward. No, I'm talking about beliving in something that makes us together a force for good in the world. Instead of selling the idea that the world is progressing into a great future, I'm talking about a world that is being pulled forward into God's future. I'm not talking about pitching a way to save our individual butts from Hell...I'm talking about us partering with the God of the universe to save our word from the Hell it can become in this life and in the afterlife for all of us. I don't believe in progress. I believe in God's world being pulled into God's future...and for all the stories that turned out to be fairytales, I believe in this one...and I believe this true story has the power to change the world.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Vacation and Bookstuff

Last weekend, Dana, Emma and I traveled to Birmingham, AL, primarily to attend Dana's class reunion (10 years). Sunday morning I had the opportunity to speak at Disciples' Fellowship, which was a lot of fun (what a great group). After spending the morning with DF, we headed to Prattville, AL, where we had lunch with my sister Jan. After lunch we drove down to Panama City Beach and spent a week there. We got to spend lots of time with our families, which was great, and we got to relax, which was greatly needed.

  • How (Not) To Speak of God By Pete Rollins
    • A few months back I went to a small retreat featuring Brian McLaren. While there, Brian mentioned reading the manuscript for a forthcoming book. He said it was the one of the three best and most important books he had read in the last decade (or something like that). The book was called "How (Not) To Speak of God" by a guy named Pete Rollins. I picked it up in Nashville a few weeks ago and read it on my vacation. Wow. This is a powerful book. In the first section he unpacks how theology is influenced by philosophy. In the second section, he offers a collection of "worship services" from his church (IKON), on a variety of themes. It is quite interesting to see how his theology plays out in that context. This book will really streatch very good ways. It will make you angry and it will comfort your soul. It will hurt and it will heal. I highly, highly reccomend it.
  • A Heretic's Guide To Eternity by Spencer Burke
    • I was sent a copy of this book to review (which I requested). I was really looking forward to it. To be honest I like a lot of what he says. On top of that, I really like Spencer Burke and all the work he's done. With all of that being said, I really had trouble getting into this book after I actually started reading it. It's not that it's bad. It's not that I disagree with most of it or that I'm in any way offended. It's simply that whereas I couldn't put Rollins' book down, I can put this one down. And so I am.