Wednesday, November 17, 2010

FAQ 4: What is Salvation?

I'm currently preaching through a sermon series called "Frequently Asked Questions".  The premise is that I'll take the most common questions that people have about God, Faith, etc., and respond to them.  I'm not attempting to definitively answer these questions, per se, but I am publicly interacting with them.  I've dusted off my blog and I'm writing a post that interacts with each week's question.  So, without any further introduction, I give you my 4th question:  What is Salvation?

Salvation.  It's one of the most basic and fundamental concepts of Christianity.  Do you have it?  How can you get it?  Can you lose it?  What is it, anyway?  Ask 7 Christians and you may get 7 answers.  Most of the debates that revolve around the subject reduce salvation to a thing to be possessed or a status to maintained, and the general assumption seems to be that salvation is almost completely related to one's destination in the afterlife. 

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word that is translated "salvation" literally means "rescue".  As a Biblical concept, it finds its dominant expression in the Exodus,where the enslaved Israelites called out for generations to God, who eventually delivered them from their oppression.   Most Biblical references to salvation seem intended to evoke this imagery again and again.  Another prominent idea found in the Old Testament is that God IS Salvation.  The New Testament relies heavily on the Old Testament imagery of Salvation, but there are a few subtle differences.  In these texts, Salvation (rescue) takes place by Grace (unmerited), through Faith (trust, confidence) in Jesus. But even this short overview might lead one to an individualistic, escapist understanding of Salvation.  Such an understanding would be deeply mistaken and profoundly unbiblical.

I have less than no interest in the debate between "Once Saved, Always Saved" and a Salvation that is called into question by the commission of a sin or the misunderstanding of a concept.  The extremes at both ends of that spectrum are equally ridiculous, and frankly I question the spectrum itself.  In Galatians, Paul seems to call out the Galatian church for thee distorted version of Salvation they were promoting.  He says:

 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. 
-Gal. 5:4-6 NIV

 That's right.  The infamous phrase "fall from grace" actually originates in a passage that is arguing against trying to justify yourself by law, as if you were "paying off the god".  He essentially says that to do so is to fall from grace...seemingly because you don't recognize it, and you don't believe you need it (or that it's sufficient in the first place). Salvation is not payment for services rendered.  It is a gift from God. no Don't miss the next thought though:  "The only thing that counts if faith expressing itself through love".  Paul refuses to choose from their options.  Instead, he transcends them.  To do anything else is to reduce grace to a commodity and Salvation to a status game.

I've come to believe that the Christian concept of Salvation is rooted in the Hebrew concept of Shalom.  Shalom is a word that the ancient rabbis used to describe both the original condition of the world in the Genesis creation narratives, and God's intention for how the world should be.  It means something like "harmony", and the rabbis argued that it exhibited itself in 3 ways:  Harmony between God and people, harmony between people and other people, and harmony between people and God's creation.  They argue that what we normally refer to as "the fall" in the Genesis 3 narrative is not merely meant to indicate a break the relationship between God and people, but rather the breaking of Shalom in all three of the dimensions we've discussed and a new trajectory towards chaos.  It can be argued that all sin can be traced back to the breaking of harmony in these 3 areas. It can also be argued that sin isn't a matter accumulating demerits so much as it is a matter of further distancing yourself and the world from the harmony God intends for it.  Salvation then, is rescue from this situation by the God who is most clearly revealed in Jesus.

This re-framing  has been profoundly helpful for me.  However, there is another aspect of Salvation that I believe may be just as important and just as overlooked.  Paul articulates it well in 2 Corinthians 5:14-21:

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.  So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! …

Notice the language of "Creation" and "New Creation" here, and how resonant it is with what we've already discussed.  Paul isn't the only one who makes this connection (and this isn't the only place he does it).  In the Gospel that bears his name, John structures his telling of the story of Jesus after the Genesis 1 Creation narrative.  He names 7 days (in order) in the course of the narrative, and lists 7 signs/miracles (each of which can be tied to the parallel day of Creation).  On the 7th day, Jesus "rests" in the tomb.  He is resurrected (in a garden, no less) on the first day of the new week, indicating that New Creation has begun.  Although I could certainly keep going down that rabbit trail, I want to get back to Paul's argument in 2 Corinthians, because the next part of his argument is fascinating:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God

I've argued that Salvation is essentially reconciliation...rescue from the trajectory towards chaos...a return to the harmony (Shalom) that was broken, in all of its dimensions.  Now, Paul lets the other shoe drop.  Those who have been (are being) reconciled have also become agents of reconciliation.  Those who have been saved/rescued by God become agents of salvation.  It's not that you "have" salvation.  It's that salvation has you.  The writer of Ephesians makes a similar argument:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do
-Eph. 2:8-10 NIV

To be clear, I'm not arguing for a works-based Salvation. This text (as well as many others), deconstructs any such argument before it can even get started.  However, I am absolutely arguing for Salvation-based-works.  To be rescued is to become involved in the rescue.  Individual Salvation is not an end unto itself.  It is a means, by which we become active participants of what a living and active God is doing in the world.  Biblically, Salvation isn't just a status to be claimed, it is a vocation to be embraced.

Salvation is the delightful surprise of having your little life caught up in the purposes of God for the whole world.
-Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon

    Tuesday, November 09, 2010

    FAQ Part 3: If I Have Faith, Why Do I Still Doubt?

    I'm currently preaching through a sermon series called "Frequently Asked Questions".  The premise is that I'll take the most common questions that people have about God, Faith, etc., and respond to them.  I'm not attempting to definitively answer these questions, per se, but I am publicly interacting with them.  I've dusted off my blog and I'm writing a post that interacts with each week's question.  So, without any further introduction, I give you my 3rd question:  If I have faith, why do I still doubt?

     “Remember that these things are mysteries and that if they were such that we could understand them, they wouldn’t be worth understanding.  A God you understood would be less than yourself.”  
    -Flannery O’Connor

    I've written before about my basic beliefs concerning the relationship between faith and doubt, including in this recent guest post on Jason Boyett's blog.  In short, I believe that the two are inextricably bound together.  I believe that to say I have faith is, at the same time, to admit that I have doubt.  I believe that words like "faith" and "belief" are more closely related to words like "trust" and "hope" than they are to words like "certain" and "irrefutable".  Indeed, as thinkers from Tillich to Anne Lamott have pointed out, "faith" and "certainty" may be closer to opposites.  Though it may be uncomfortable for many readers to see it stated this way, there is a real sense in which "faith" is at best, a hopeful agnosticism...a confident gamble in which we are betting our lives on what we hope is true.  To say "I believe" is also in a sense to say, "I don't know".

    While I argue that "faith" and "doubt" are in some ways inseparable, I'd also argue that not all doubts are equal.  There is such a thing as "positive doubt".  It would be impossible to learn anything new, if one did not doubt the adequacy and/or validity of what we already know and believe.  Without doubt, no form of reformation would ever be possible.  With that being said, there is also a type of doubt that is chronic, paralyzing, and decidedly unhealthy.

    Where does this doubt come from?  In his excellent book, O Me of Little Faith, Jason Boyett proposes 6 possible causes:

    Sin--While doubt is not in and of itself sinful, it is often the result of persistent, unconfessed sin.  When someone lives in violation of their own conscience and what they believe to be right or good, they begin to create distance between themselves and those who share these convictions...including God.  This God, who is thus assumed to be increasingly distant and unforgiving, becomes less and less believable.

    Familiarity--As much as familiarity can bring comfort, it can also eventually lend itself to contempt and boredom.   For those who have been believers for some time, especially those who tend to think of faith as a static thing to be maintained, faith can be a lethargic, tedious exercise that eventually becomes untenable.  

    Depression--Boyett says "Some of us struggle to trust God when things are great.  When things fall apart, it's even harder."  As much as we'd like to believe that our emotional state has no effect on what we do or do not place our faith in, the reality is not so detached and compartmentalized. 

    Circumstances--Circumstances can bring us closer to God and they can also make us feel farther away from God.  If you know anyone who has been touched by tragedy and loss, you know this to be true.

    Being Human--In one of my favorite lines from the book, Boyett quips, "If you're afraid of doubt, being human isn't your best option."  As human beings, we place our trust in other things and other people and often find that our trust was misplaced.  If those we can see let us down, how much more difficult it is to trust an unseen God.

    Intellectual Doubt--The deeper you dig, the deeper the rabbit hole goes.  While some are able to accept simple explanations, others find themselves unable to turn off the questions that aren't satisfied with such answers.  In his book, The Myth of Certainty, Daniel Taylor refers to such individuals as "Reflective", and rightly claims that their reflectiveness is both a blessing and a curse.

      * * *

       While I would never propose that you can (or even necessarily should) find away to rid yourself of all doubts, I can propose a few healthy ways of dealing with chronic doubt.  This list is not meant to be exhaustive.  I offer it from my own experience as what I have personally found helpful:

      Prayer--I don't actually mean "just pray your doubts away" or some other trivial cliche'.  When I'm in the depths of debilitating doubt, prayer is often one of the last things I want to do.  I just don't have the words.  Coming from a non-liturgical background, I have been surprised to find life and vitality breathed back into my faith by fixed-hour prayer.  Praying these historical prayers that have stood the test of time, at specific times of the day when other believers all over the world are also praying (given time changes), is a powerful thing.  I've found that they strengthen my faith and that they have even brought vitality back to my "spontaneous" prayers.  For those who are unfamiliar with the practice, I can recommend Praying with the Church by Scot McKnight, and The Divine Hours Pocket Edition,  by Phillis Tickle to get you started.  Also, praying the Lord's Prayer a few times a day wouldn't be a bad place to start.

      Confession--If the doubt you are experiencing is the result of ongoing sin (as discussed above), then I highly recommend that you find a few people whom you respect to confess it to.  However, that kind of confession isn't necessarily what I'm talking about here.  Doubt becomes malignant and harmful when we keep it covered up, as if it were something to be ashamed of.  When you bring your doubts out into the light, confessing them to a few people you respect, you may find more hope than you ever thought possible.  You may find that others have the same questions.  You may find others who don't struggle with the same questions, but also don't reject you for thinking differently.  These moments of "I'm not crazy" and "I'm not alone" can be wonderfully liberating, and will hopefully lead to the next practice on my list.

      Conversation/Community--Christian faith is not a solo sport.  It was meant to be done in community.  Hopefully, the confession of doubt within community leads to hopeful and helpful dialogue that explores the way forward.  By this I don't necessarily mean that others will talk you out of your questions.  As we've already said, what you are doubting may well be worth doubting.  The way forward is a path that is best explored together.

      Nature-- I am not an outdoors person, as this blog post by my wife clearly illustrates.  Left to my own devices, I'll stay holed up inside with a book.  However, I've found that when I'm out in nature, there's something that I can't put words to that points to something greater than myself.  There are many different proposals by many different people on what that "something" is.  However, the point is that the vastness and complexity of Creation help me to feel an appropriate sense of smallness, awe, and wonder.

      Art--When I started a Master's Degree in Theological Studies, someone offered me what I thought at the time was an odd piece of advice.  They told me to make sure that I made a point to stay engaged with artistic things...listen to good music, engage with good stories/fiction, etc.  As strange a suggestion as I thought it was, I found it to be incredibly valuable.  I've found that faith is a very right-brained phenomenon (Daniel Pink writes persuasively about this in A Whole New Mind).  When we try to have faith by approaching God from a totally left-brained perspective, we often become junior-high kids with scalpel in hand, who have relegated God to the role of dead frog to be dissected and labeled.  Something is obviously lost in the process.

      Action-- There is no better antidote to paralyzing, unhealthy doubt that to take action, for the sake of others.  Introspection can be both a Spiritual discipline and a snare of self-absorption.  Taking action, especially with other people for the sake of other people breathes new life into dry faith almost every time.  It's not that the questions get answered--in fact, new questions may be generated in the process.  Its that our more self-centered, self-absorbed questions tend to evaporate as we pour out the life and energy we've been trying so desperately to protect, for the sake of the world that God so loves.

       “What if there is another category of reality in the universe, no less real just because it doesn’t shrink itself to our instruments and portals of ‘knowledge’?  What if that category of reality--let’s call it mystery or spirituality--dwarfs all of our knowledge, as space dwarfs our little earth?  Are we humble enough to look up from the little things we are so proud of comprehending and controlling, to face massive realities--humbling mysteries--greater than ourselves, and therefore greater than our ability to squeeze into our little boxes of certainty or ‘knowledge’?  Are we willing to step off the narrow ledge of knowledge to soar into the broad spaces of faith?”  
      -Brian McLaren, Finding Faith

        Wednesday, November 03, 2010

        FAQ Part 2: Is Jesus a Republican or a Democrat? (or a Tea Partier, or a Libertarian, etc.)

        I'm currently preaching through a sermon series called "Frequently Asked Questions".  The premise is that I'll take the most common questions that people have about God, Faith, etc., and respond to them.  I'm not attempting to definitively answer these questions, per se, but I am publicly interacting with them.  I've dusted off my blog and I'm writing a post that interacts with each week's question.  So, without any further introduction, I give you my 2nd question:

        Is Jesus a Republican or a Democrat?  (or a Tea Partier, or a Libertarian, etc.)

        No.  (Thanks for reading  ;) )

        Of course, the title of this post is a silly, non-Biblical question.  Nothing like our political parties existed at the time of Jesus, nor did anything like our political system.  Someone might suggest "How would Jesus vote?" as a better question, but that one would have to be immediately followed by "Would Jesus vote at all?"  I suppose the real question is more along the line of "How would Jesus have us use our vote?", or better yet, "What does political engagement look like for those who follow Jesus?"

        Any good discussion of Christianity an politics has to at least briefly look at the effect that a Roman Emperor named Constantine had on Christianity.  In the 4th century AD, Constantine had a dream or a vision in which he reportedly saw the symbol of the cross with the message: "Under this sign, you shall conquer".   He had a cross constructed like the one he saw in his vision and had it carried at the front of his army like a standard.  The battle was won, and Constantine claimed to become a Christian.  He subsequently legalized Christianity, and by the end of the century it was the official religion of the Roman Empire.  In his book, The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church, Greg Boyd sums it up well:
         “For the first time, the church was given the power of the sword.  Rather that viewing this new sword-power as Jesus did--as a temptation of the devil that needed to be resisted--influential Church leaders like Eusibius and Augustine saw it as a blessing from God…Once the church acquired power over others, everything changed…The faith that previously motivated people to trust in the power of the Cross now inspired them to trust in the power of the sword.  Those who had previously understood that their job was to serve the world, now aspired to rule it.  The community that once pointed to their love for enemies and refusal to engage in violence as proof of Christ’s Lordship, now pointed to their ability to violently defeat enemies as proof of Christ’s Lordship.”
         I honestly have a growing concern that the political involvement and party devotion of many Christians is more than flirting with idolatry.  Idolatry is essentially giving devotion, allegiance, etc. that are due only to God to something man-made.  I would extend this to what Peter Rollins calls "ideolatry", where we begin to worship our own concepts and ideologies as if they were God.  Forgive the string of quotes, but I think they explore this point well:

        “There is no better way for a political party to establish the legitimacy of its political point of view that to declare that Jesus is one of its members.  The remaking of Jesus is not just some kind of harmless campaign technique.  It is not merely something sophisticated sociological observers can pass off with a wry smile and a wave of the hand.  It is not just bad religion that needs correcting.  The Bible calls it idolatry!”
        -Tony Campolo 

        "Now, as kingdom people we are called to live in love, which means we are called and empowered to live free of fear.  Because our source of worth, significance and security is found exclusively in God's love and God's reign, not our own immediate well-being and because we believe in the resurrection, we are empowered to love even those who threaten our well-being--for this does not threaten our essential worth, significance, and security.  We are therefore, not to fear them (1 Pet. 3:14-18).  If we do fear them, it is only because some element of our essential worth, significance and security is rooted in what they threaten.  In other words, fear is an indication that we are living in idolatry, not love.
        -Greg Boyd
        "To confess that I play Tetris religiously isn't to say anything pro or con about religion. But to do it more than once a day, visit the Drudge Report every hour, check my cell phone every three minutes, and listen to Rush Limbaugh more often than I listen to any other human voice and then to claim that these things have absolutely nothing to do with my religion is to be, to some degree, delusional. My religion is my practice. It's what I do."
        -David Dark
         In truth, there are multiple Christian perspectives possible for sincere people of faith.  There are intelligent people of faith on both the Left and the Right, who can make Biblical cases for the stances that they take.  There are also Anabaptists and those who take a similar position of non-participation in the electoral process (as voters or candidates), who also have profoundly Biblical reasons for their own political positions.  There are those who see party affiliation as the best way for them to affect positive, "Kingdom of God" changes in the world (Where Justice and Righteousness flow like a mighty river.  Where the poor, oppressed and downtrodden are lifted up.  See the prophets for further descriptions), and there are also those of us with convictions against political party affiliation because we feel they demand an allegiance that we are not willing or at liberty to give.  There is no political party that can truly claim to be "Christian" or "God-ordained".  To buy any propaganda that says otherwise is to reduce Jesus to a rubber stamp, and Christianity to a convenient voting block.  To allow groups with political agendas to manipulate us based on fear is to say that we have placed our faith in something other than God.  To allow political ideology to cause me to see another human being as an enemy or as less human or valuable than people like myself, is to sell out the way of Jesus for the sake of power.  Chuck Colson puts it like this:

        "Every human being is made in God’s image. This is the foundation of human value and is shared by all people, making all equal before God. We frequently appeal to the image of God to make a case for protecting the unborn, but we must recognize that Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh are all also made in the image of God. Simply put, Christians cannot demonize our opponents, because to do so is to insult the God in whose image we are made.”
        The demonizing of those whom we disagree with politically, whether they are other voters, entire political parties, or famous politicians is not Christian...ever.  To do so is to betray the Way of Jesus and to indicate where our strongest allegiance lies.  Regardless of any label it applies to itself, unthinking partisan political engagement is not Christian...ever.  To engage in such a way is to indicate where we have truly placed our faith.  I'm not saying that the Bible prohibits Christians from affiliating with political parties.  However, I am saying that when they do so, they are to be prophetic voices who offer relevant critique rather than compliant sheep who accept whatever talking points they are fed.  Scripture tells us to "Seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you." Political voices from all sides tell us that if we will only seek first these things, then they will give us the kingdom we want.  As followers of Jesus, may we have the courage of our convictions as well as a Christ-like humility that allows us to listen and learn from those unlike ourselves.  May our devotion to the Way of Jesus lead us to engage in a higher level of discourse, and may we resist the temptation to merely baptize partisan mudslinging as if it were somehow holy.

        “Instead of participating in this kind of polarizing politics, I think Christians should embrace the politics of Jesus, which is a ministry of reconciliation…It’s not so much that Christians of various stripes on the political spectrum ought to be looking for common ground as that they ought to be looking for higher ground. 
        -Tony Campolo

        Tuesday, October 19, 2010

        FAQ Part 1: Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People?

        This past Sunday, I began a sermon series called "Frequently Asked Questions".  The premise is that I'll take the most common questions that people have about God, Faith, etc., and respond to them.  I'm not attempting to definitively answer these questions, per se, but I am publicly interacting with them.  As a part of that exercise, I plan on posting the audio as soon as its available during the week that each sermon is delivered, and I'm also dusting off my blog and writing a post that interacts with each week's question.  So, without any further introduction, I give you my first question:

        Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People?
        It's a question I've been wrestling with a lot lately.  I could tell you the story of the 16-year-old girl that died when a tornado hit her High School a few years ago.  My father was the police chaplain and was also her preacher.  He identified her body, and then had to walk out to where her parents were waiting in the designated area behind caution tape, and inform them that their precious daughter was dead.  I could tell you about my wife's cousin who suffered from cystic fibrosis all of his life, and wasn't expected to live past age 6.  At age 38, he received a lung transplant that was supposed to give him at least another 10 years to spend with his wife and adopted son.  He developed an infection in his new lungs shortly after the transplant, and died less than a year later at age 39.  I could tell you about my friends from college Tony and Susan.  Tony was the best man at my wedding.  Susan stood in for my wife Dana at our wedding rehearsal.  Tony and I decided to go into youth ministry on the same day.  Susan and Dana developed the kind of special bond that often grows between those who walk a similar path.  About a month ago, Susan went in for an outpatient medical procedure.  Something went wrong, and by that evening the MRI showed no brain activity.  The next morning, my friend had to give the word to turn off the machines, because his wife was dead.  Then, he went home to their 3-year-old twins.  No matter who you are, and how strong your faith is, there are times when you look to the heavens and scream "Do you even know what you are doing???  Do you care???  Are you even there???"  Why do bad things happen to good people?

        In order to Biblically engage with this question (as it is commonly asked), it seems to me that part of the question is itself questionable.  Bear with me, because I assure you I'm not trying to get God off the hook on a technicality, but I have to ask, "What 'good people'?"  Now before half of you give me the Mark Driscol/John Piper stamp of approval, and the other half slam your laptops closed in disgust, let me explain.  I do NOT mean that in the hyper-Calvinist sense of "we are all so evil and depraved that we only deserve for horrible things to happen to us in the first place, so its a miracle that good things ever happen."  I find such an explanation to be a theologically abhorrent cop-out.  I think that Scripture makes quite clear the value that God places on human beings, and that he deems all of his creation as "good" and "very good".  What I mean, is that followers of Jesus, who have accepted the grace of God, have essentially opted out of categorizing some people as better than others.  Paul appears to argue (Romans and Galatians immediately come to mind) that to do so is to invalidate the Gospel of Jesus, and that to continue to insist on putting people into categories (Jew, Greek, Slave, Free, Male, Female, Good, Bad, etc.) that somehow sort them in terms of value and worth is precisely to "fall from grace", as someone who claims not to need it.  To be Christian then, is to opt-out of the "US v/s THEM" system that deems some as "Good", deserving of blessings and protection from pain (because they've earned it), and some people as "Bad", rightly deserving all of the pain and suffering that might come their way.  

        So, I think a re-framing of the question is in order.  The question isn't "Why do bad things happen to good people?" so much as it is "Why do bad things happen to God's people?"  Essentially, the question posed to God is, "If we are supposed to have this special relationship with you...if you are really a 'Father' to us, how can you allow these things to happen?"  I would argue that this is the most commonly asked question in the Biblical text, and much of Scripture is devoted to wrestling with precisely the issue at hand.  I hate to disappoint you but, even so, no definitive answer is given in the Bible.  The closest thing you get is found in the book of Job.

        The book of Job is likely the oldest document in the Biblical text.  Moreover, despite the claims of fundamentalists that everything in the Bible must be interpreted literally, the majority of the book of Job is written in Hebrew poetry.  Many attempts at answering our question (even within the Biblical text) offer a solution that sounds a lot like Karma...Good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people.  While the opening scene of Job is Theologically odd to say the least (with Satan walking into God's throne room and engaging God in a wager), it does make one thing very clear:  What happens to Job is in no way his fault.  In fact, the text describes Job's righteousness in such an over-the-top kind of way, you would think he was Jesus.  As the narrative progresses, everything Job loves is systematically taken away from him, and even his relationship with his wife is twisted in a way that only adds to the misery.  Job stands strong for the majority of the narrative...until his religious friends show up.  In the beginning they do something that is very wise, observing a tradition by which they are present with the one in mourning, but do not speak.  (We could actually learn a lot from them, because in these situations many of us say the dumbest, most insensitive things possible.)  Then, after several days of this, they ruin it by talking.  They explain to Job that BECAUSE (A) We all know that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people (a.k.a. "sinners"), and (B) Bad things are happening to Job, THEN (C) Job must be "bad people"/a sinner.  Job assures them that this isn't the case, but they will have none of it, as their logic is perfect in their own minds.  Finally, Job has enough and screams at the heavens, demanding that God would come down and explain himself.  In humor that often escapes us, the youngest member of Job's band of friends speaks up for the first time, and explains to Job what a silly request this is, because God just doesn't do this kind of thing...Which is immediately followed by God showing up to respond to Job's question.  God's poetic response is fascinating.  He begins by establishing who is God and who isn't.  He speaks of his knowledge, his power, and his role as Creator.  He essentially asks Job, "Who do you think you are?"  This is commonly assumed to be the essence of God's entire response to Job, as if God is just a colossal jerk who happens to be really powerful.  Such a reading doesn't do justice to God or to the beauty of the text.  As God's response continues, you begin to notice a subtle shift in the language.  He begins to use very parental language (both paternal and maternal) to refer to his relationship with things like rain, dew and frost.  He describes Himself as being greatly concerned with even baby birds who cry out in hunger.  He depicts himself as counting down the days until pregnant goats and deer give birth.  He begins to talk about lazy wild donkeys who he appears to love, though they don't produce anything of value like a domesticated donkey.  He describes an ostrich as ugly, mean and sort of stupid...but then appears to take delight in how fast it can run.  God essentially moves from asking "Who do you think you are?" to asking "Who do you think I am?"  Not once in His response does God offer an answer or explanations.  He appears to suggest that Job wouldn't understand, and it wouldn't be that helpful anyway.  However, God follows all of that up by essentially saying "But don't you, even for a second, think that I don't care and I'm not suffering with you.  I am intimately involved and deeply concerned with the most minute aspects of creation.  Do you really think I don't care about your pain?" As Jurgen Moltmann says, a God who was impassive to our suffering "would not be a God, but a monster", and "God's power is not expressed by the fact that he controls all things (the opposite of love), but in that he bears all things and suffers all things."

        In the Gospels, Jesus engages with the question as well.  In the sermon on the mount, he says:
        "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor  and hate your enemy.'  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
        -Matthew 5:43-48 TNIV
        This is a fascinating text to me.  By way of definition of his Father's perfection, he points out that he causes the sun to shine and also gives life-giving rain to both the evil and the good--both the righteous and the unrighteous.  Then, he tells us to go do likewise.

        In essence, the Bible offers no conclusive answer or explanation to the question that it wrestles with the most.  Instead, it describes a God who suffers with us, and it issues a call for those who would follow this God to embody a response rather than offer an explanation.  As the people of God, we are to bring light to darkness, hope to despair, and even life into death.  We are not to spend all of our energy and resources insulating ourselves from pain and suffering, but rather we are to be the ones who enter into the suffering of others and help them to bear it.  When those who are suffering cry out "Where is God?", our role is not to convince them with apologetics.  As agents of Hope, it is our calling to reflect and embody God into the space where he cannot be easily seen or heard. 

        Tuesday, September 21, 2010

        God and Monkeys?

        My friend Matthew Paul Turner asked me to write a review for of Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans, as a guest post for his blog, "Jesus Needs New PR".  I loved the book (which was provided to me free of charge).  You can read my review on Matthew's blog by clicking HERE, or you can just read it below...

        The problem with polarized arguments is that both sides end up arguing for something stupid…against something equally stupid…with no way forward.  One of the major problems with Christianity in our day is that, in many ways we have begun to let polarized arguments define us.  We are in love with labels, and with categories of “us” versus “them”.  We proudly identify ourselves as “conservative” or “liberal” in terms of politics and theology and claim that if you don’t apply the same label to yourself, you must be one of “them”, and thus not a “true Christian”, like us.  We ratchet our categories ever tighter, to the point that if you even question any point of our collective unspoken creeds, we question your faithfulness and intentions.

        This phenomenon has become particularly obvious in the dominant approach to Christian apologetics in America.  Having “faith” has come to mean having certainty about a particular set of beliefs.  It’s a sad situation in desperate need of a fresh perspective that dares to imagine a way forward.
        Enter author/thinker/southerner Rachel Held Evans.  As a resident of Dayton, TN (the site of the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial), a graduate of Bryant College, and a former poster-child for apologetics-oriented faith, Rachel is uniquely positioned to be exactly the kind of voice we need hear.  In her book, Evolving In Monkey Town, Rachel offers a deeply personal and life-giving perspective.  The book isn’t exactly what you might think, given the title.  She doesn’t particularly attempt to settle the “evolution question”, so much as she argues that our approach to this and other questions like it has been deeply unhelpful.  Equal parts memoir and Practical Theology, “Monkey Town” proposes an approach that doesn’t equate “faith” with “certainty”.  Rather, Rachel advocates a faith that has room for ambiguity; that generates questions instead of fearing them; a faith that trusts and hopes even in the midst of doubt. She calls us to distinguish between questioning God and questioning our beliefs about God, and argues that, rather than being blasphemous, the later is both formative and necessary.  She argues that faith was never meant to be a static, unchanging thing; but that living faith is alive precisely because of its ability to learn, adapt, and…well, evolve.

        It doesn’t hurt that Rachel is a profoundly good writer.  She’ll have you laughing one minute and in tears the next.  At certain points you’ll be unable to put the book down, while at other you’ll have to put it down to ponder the implications of what you’ve just read.  In a day when many would-be defenders of the faith are characterized by arrogance and ignorance, Rachel Held Evans may just be the humble and thoughtful kind of prophet we need.  The fact that such a description probably makes her uncomfortable, only strengthens my case.

        Buy Rachel's Book

        Friday, July 30, 2010

        Check Out My Guest Post about Faith and Doubt on Jason Boyett's Blog

        Several weeks ago, I wrote a review of Jason Boyett's new book, O Me of Little Faith: True Confessions of a Spiritual Weakling. Jason recently asked me to write a guest post for his blog on the subject of faith and doubt. Check out my contribution HERE.

        Monday, May 24, 2010

        At His (Glenn) Beck and Call?

        Author's Note: Matthew Paul Turner asked me to write this response to the video linked below. My response was originally posted at his blog, Jesus Needs New PR. There was a good bit of discussion in the comment section there, if you are interested.

        OK. It makes my wife nervous when I wade into these kinds of discussions, especially when I do it publicly. Now, for the record, I claim no affiliation to any political party, as I think political parties tend to demand a level of allegiance that I’m not willing (or at liberty) to give.

        That being said, this most recent clip of Glenn Beck “teaching” us about social justice and partnership is abhorrent in my opinion. Of course, it would be merely ridiculous and laughable if I were simply judging it based on content alone. But that’s not the only issue here. What bothers me is the blatant attempt to co-opt Christians for a political agenda (as well as for ratings). What bothers me more is how wildly successful it’s been. To that, some of you might say, “But isn’t that what they are arguing against?”

        Yes, it is. And that’s the hypocrisy of it all.

        Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think scripture mandates government-enforced socialism or communism (which are not the same thing). However, it should be noted that under the Mosaic Law, redistribution was actually mandated in some ways i.e. “leaving the edges of your field unharvested for the poor,” and the “year of Jubilee”. But scripture doesn’t advocate unregulated free-market capitalism, either.

        The theme that I read over and over again in scripture is God’s concern with what kind of a people we are becoming–both collectively and individually. Are we becoming the kind of people who actually care about the other person…the poor and the oppressed…the widow and the orphan?


        Are we becoming the kind of people who find ways to demonize and devalue other people, so that we can justify hoarding wealth and resources for ourselves?

        Do we look for ways to baptize selfishness, or is the unconditional love of God that we’ve accepted making us more loving and generous people? Is grace something that we merely accept, or is it something that we embody?

        Do we care more about the government trying to take our “hard-earned money” to help the poor and oppressed than we care about the fact that they are poor and oppressed?

        Do we use one verse (out of context) from Second Thessalonians to justify our way out of more than 2000 verses of scripture that deal with our responsibility to the poor and oppressed?

        (SIDE NOTE: Did you realize that the prophet Ezekiel identifies the “sin of Sodom” as the fact that they were “arrogant and overfed” and that they “did not care about the poor and the oppressed”?)

        Are we so troubled by the plight of the poor and oppressed that we wrestle with the complex nature of the problem and the inadequate solutions offered by political leaders on all sides, or are we suckers for T.V. personalities whose confident, righteous-sounding rhetoric gives us ways to justify our selfishness, greed, and/or prejudice?

        You see; the term “social justice” was coined because the word “justice” became obscure over time. That happened because the legal, punitive meaning of “justice” began to dominate society’s understanding of the term. But in the Bible, the dominant meaning of “justice” is more akin to what is currently meant by the term “Social Justice.”

        (Glenn Beck badly mis-characterizes “social justice” in the video clip.)

        Sadly, we Christians have a very pervasive tendency to remake God in our own image instead of the other way around. And we use Scripture as a tool to prop up what we already want to believe rather than allowing God’s story to change our hearts.

        That’s why it saddens me to hear Jerry Fallwell Jr. and George Lillback happily lend their support and “wisdom” to Beck’s propaganda. In this clip alone, they oversimplify issues that are deeply complex (Biblical and otherwise), and even poorly reveal the actions and words of historical figures (like Rauschenbusch, for instance, which will be clear to anyone who has actually read his works) and concepts they cite. I’m unclear if their actions are because they haven’t taken the time to adequately research these issues, or if they think they’re serving some “greater good”.

        To me, it seems they’ve allowed themselves to be co-opted and used. Multiple positions could be intelligently and compellingly argued by people of faith, if they would simply admit the complex nature of the argument. Instead, we get people passing themselves off as experts to support what is little more than political, social, and media propaganda.

        Sure, I’m disturbed by the fact that Glenn Beck is presuming to tell people where they should and shouldn’t go to church. But you know what bugs me the most? The fact that so many Christians actually buy into Beck’s message. Where’s our discernment? Why are respected Christian leaders standing next to him and supporting his propaganda?

        And why in the world do so many people of faith feel the need to be at this man’s beck and call and serve his agenda rather than the agenda of Christ?

        Tuesday, May 11, 2010

        O Me of Little Faith (Book Review)

        Note: This review was originally posted on my friend Matthew Paul Turner's blog. Be sure to also check out the follow-up discussion at Jason Boyett's blog.

        I have always enjoyed Jason Boyett’s writing. I became familiar with him when, on a whim, I picked up his “Pocket Guide To The Apocalypse”. His good-natured sarcasm, combined with the fact that he takes the time to “know what he’s talking about” had me at “Hello”. Since then, I’ve read several of his other “Pocket Guides” and I follow his blog. When Boyett announced that he was releasing a new book with the provocative title, “O Me of Little Faith”, it would be an understatement to say that I was interested in reading it.

        Now that I’ve read it, I must confess that Jason Boyett has created a problem for me. On one hand, he seems to have unknowingly written his book about me. I am a confirmed doubter. For me, faith and doubt are like eternal dance partners. It seems to me that “faith” is more closely related to words like “trust”, “confidence”, “hope”, “commitment”, and has less to do with words like “certainty” or “convinced”. I can’t turn off the questions. I don’t generally find books on apologetics helpful. I resonate with the man who cried out to Jesus “Lord, I do believe. Help my unbelief” in the gospel account. On the other hand, not everyone is like me. I’ve found that some people aren’t given to such incessant questioning, and that the things that are issues for me aren’t issues for them.

        So here’s my problem: Jason Boyett has written a beautiful, hopeful, gut-wrenchingly honest book for people like me. I can’t even begin to tell you how refreshingly helpful it was, and how much life it breathed back into my faith. But, at the same time, I realize (as Boyett seems to) that for people who aren’t like me, this book could be devastating. He doesn’t shy away from hard questions, and he doesn’t answer them. He doesn’t defend the status-quo. He doesn’t whitewash problems. He makes no attempt to win any debates. He speaks with poignant honesty as one who is deeply committed to hope. I can’t recommend this book to every Christian I know. However, I know that I will, without hesitation direct my fellow faithful doubters to this beacon of hope. It is a well of living water that I will return to again and again.

        Tuesday, April 13, 2010

        The Gospel According to LOST (Book Recommendation)

        If you ask me, Chris Seay doesn't write enough. I have loved every book that I've read by him. His writing style is uniquely engaging...almost conversational...intelligent without sounding academic. As a reader, you find yourself drawn in, without feeling "talked down to". But where Seay really shines is when he explores the intersection of Pop-Culture and Theology.

        In The Gospel According to Lost, Seay explores the ABC television series, that has become a cultural force. To be honest, I stared getting into the show in season 2, but gave up on it after I couldn't make sense of the polar bears on a tropical island or the black cloud that killed a guy. Even though I hadn't been watching the show, when the opportunity to review this book came up, I jumped on it based on how much I had enjoyed Seay's previous work. From the very beginning, he began revealing layers of meaning that I had missed in my brief stint of watching the show. I was quickly convinced that my rejection of LOST had been premature. I caught up with recaps on itunes and with full episodes of all previous seasons on hulu. I'm now an unabashed LOST devotee, fully engaged in the final season, due in no small part to this book.

        While a few chapters are devoted to topical material, Seay devotes the majority of the chapters to exploring individual characters. It's a brilliant approach, as it allows him to explore various themes, but in a personal, almost relational way. It's also made me a more observant viewer, learning to notice the titles of books that that characters are reading, or even carrying. The layers of philosophy and theology woven into this show are astounding, and Seay teases them out beautifully. He released this book before the final season, but he doesn't totally shy away from making predictions about the answers to various as yet, unanswered questions. This is a quick and enjoyable read, that fans of LOST will love...and that just might make a fan out of you, if you're not already.

        Grace & Peace,

        P.S. Be sure to check out Chris Seay's video podcast on each episode of the final season of LOST. Good stuff.

        * This book was provided for review free of charge through Amazon Vine.

        Monday, March 08, 2010

        "A New Kind of Christianity" by Brian McLaren

        Though I'm quite sure he would deny that anyone owed him anything, I owe Brian McLaren a debt of gratitude. Over the years, Brian's writing has breathed fresh life and vitality into my faith. To say that I was excited when Viral Bloggers offered an opportunity to review his newest book would be an understatement along the lines of claiming that Bono is kind of interested in social justice, or that Glenn Beck exaggerates a little.

        Reviewing the Reviews

        As I was finishing the book, I watched as reviews began to pop-up on the internet. The less-than-surprising news is that hard-core Calvinists (including the "New-Calvinists") hate it with a white-hot hatred they normally reserve for child abusers and made-for-TV movies on the Lifetime Network. Reading their reviews, you would think that Brian had done something to them personally, or had betrayed them in some sense (which is weird, sense they haven't liked most of his books). I was disappointed to pick up on this vibe even in a review by Michael Wittmer, whom I had generally considered to be one of the more level-headed thinkers from that perspective. Scot McKnight, whom I have a great deal of respect for, and who is not really thought of as a Calvinist, wrote a review for Christianity Today that, while much kinder and more respectful in tone, claimed that Brian wasn't really saying anything new, but was simply re-packaging the Classical Liberalism that was typical of German Theology before the 2nd World War as typified in Adolf Von Harnack. This struck me as odd, because Brian clearly intends to transcend such polarized categories (not merely repackage one category in a fresh way as "the right one"), and the point at which Brian's thought draws this criticism from McKnight, is actually closer to the much more contemporary (and 3rd-way) thinking found in the work of Peter Enns.

        Most of the critics' objections essentially stem from concerns about orthodoxy. Maybe it's because I'm from a non-creedal tradition, but I've never quite resonated with the orthodoxy/heresy argument. (I realize I may have just painted a target on myself...but that kind of illustrates my point, doesn't it?). For starters, an enormous amount of what has historically been defined as "heresy" was so classified by people who were publicly executing people they disagreed with, in the name of the crucified Christ! I'm fairly sure that misses the point of the Gospel to a much greater degree than having different ideas about whether God and Jesus are made out of the same substance. Secondly, when certain subjects are off-limits for questions, it looks like we're not actually interested in "truth", but rather merely maintaining the status quo. Additionally, for large portions of church history, the "orthodox positions" were precisely wrong (slavery, women's rights, etc.) I could go on and on...but I won't.

        The Actual Book

        A New Kind of Christianity, is the book that many of us have been wanting McLaren to write for years. Ever since he sparked our imaginations with the fictional conversations between Dan Poole and Neil Edward Oliver in A New Kind of Christian, we've been dying to see those ideas teased out in non-fiction. He structures the book around 10 crucial questions, identifying the first 5 as theological in nature, and the remaining 5 as practical.
        1. The Narrative Question: What Is the Overarching Storyline of the Bible?
        2. The Authority Question: How Should the Bible Be Understood?
        3. The God Question: Is God Violent?
        4. The Jesus Question: Who is Jesus and Why is He Important?
        5. The Gospel Question: What Is the Gospel?
        6. The Church Question: What Do We Do About the Church?
        7. The Sex Question: Can We Find a Way to Address Sexuality Without Fighting About It?
        8. The Future Question: Can We Find a Better Way of View the Future?
        9. The Pluralism Question: How Should Followers of Jesus Relate to People of Other Religions?
        10. The What Do We Do Now Question: How Can We Translate Our Quest into Action?
        McLaren's approach isn't coercive. He explains that he isn't attempting to answer these questions definitively but rather is responding to them and inviting us, as readers and willing participants into the conversation. He is seeking to get conversation out of the polarized deadlock that it is so often bogged down in, because of the bounded categories (liberal, conservative, etc.) imposed in modernity that serve to insure no real conversation can ever take place (which reminds me of the state of a certain country's political system...but I digress).

        What Brian offers here is a beautiful and thoughtful way forward. Is it perfect? No. And he never claims that it is. Will his responses satisfy everyone? Uh, I've never read any book that did that. However, to Brian's credit, he doesn't pander to any particular category's concept of "orthodoxy." A New Kind of Christianity transcends unhelpful categories and sparks hopeful conversation that I believe could point the way forward. That is, if we have ears to hear, and eyes to see.

        Thursday, February 25, 2010

        2 Brian McLaren Videos

        I recently read A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith, by Brian McLaren. I received my copy from The Ooze's Viral Bloggers Network, and I am working on a review that should be up in the next couple of days. In the meantime, has begun posting a series of videos featuring Spencer Burke interviewing McLaren about the major ideas in the book. I'm posting the first 2 here. If you have time, watch them and let me know your thoughts/reactions. I'm really interested in knowing what you think.

        The Narrative Question

        The Authority Question

        So, what do you think?

        Tuesday, February 16, 2010

        Book Review: "Hear No Evil" by Matthew Paul Turner

        Full Disclosure: Matthew Paul Turner is a good friend of mine, and I was provided with a free copy of this book for review (for that matter, I read several sections of it as it was being written).
        That being said, if it wasn't a good book, I'd just conveniently never review it rather than fabricating a falsely glowing review.

        In his latest offering, "Hear No Evil: My Story of Innocence, Music, and the Holy Ghost", Matthew Paul Turner gives us a memoir chronicling his somewhat turbulent relationship with the Christian music subculture/industry. The story spans from Matthew's childhood brushes with "Christian" fame, via a fundamentalist version of "Star Search" and a sort of one-sided friendship with teenage southern gospel "stars", to his present day observations and experiences. Turner, who in my opinion is equal parts humorist and satirist, is genuinely funny. He invites us to laugh with him as he recounts his college ambition to become "the Christian Michael Jackson". Don't get me wrong, though. Often, in the middle of side-splitting laughter, Turner will sneak up on you with a poignancy that will break your heart when you least expect it. It should also be noted that Turner isn't just some guy who's experience with the industry consists of listening to Christian radio. Though he claims to have been unqualified for the position, he is the former editor of CCM Magazine.

        In all honesty, I think Matthew's writing gets better with every book. He has an uncanny ability to use humor to take an honest look at something, warts and all, while still speaking fondly of it. His narrative shines light in some dark places in the Christian music industry, while somehow retaining an impression of hopefulness. While Matthew unflinchingly uses humor to raise really good questions, he never comes across as mean or condescending. It frankly comes across as if he's talking about a quirky, stumbling relative, who is deeply flawed...a relationship that both blessed and scarred him. He doesn't attempt many answers, as it wouldn't really serve the genre...but he does raise many useful and helpful questions. For some, this book may work like therapy, providing a kind of catharsis. For others it may work like a flashlight, illuminating some things that were obscured from their view. I highly recommend it to anyone with a sense of humor and a love of music.

        Friday, February 12, 2010

        "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

        Note: As we are about to begin a discussion on this book at our church, I thought I would re-post my review

        I freely admit that I love Donald Miller's writing style. Since I first read Blue Like Jazz, picking up one of Miller's new books has felt like sitting down for a good conversation with an old friend. His new book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life, is no different. Written in his typical memoir style, Miller invites us into a soul-searching re-examination of his own life. Apparently, after the success of Blue Like Jazz, Miller floundered a bit. He wrote a few other (in my opinion, excellent) other books, that did not sell nearly as well. He seems to have felt as if his life had lost its direction and momentum. His self-examination began after he was contacted by a movie production company who wanted to turn Blue Like Jazz, into a movie. As he began to work on the script with a couple of guys from the production company, he discovers that they must develop a "narrative arc" for the story. Miller began to learn about what makes movies compelling, and even attended a seminar on "story" by Robert McKee. As the book proceeds, Miller begins to apply the principles of Story to life, and even faith. The results are profound and compelling. Miller's keen wit and unflinching honest will take you from laughter to tears and back again...often in the same paragraph. You will be drawn in as he attempts to find his estranged father and deals with relational commitment issues. I could not put this book down (even as I was scrambling to finish the coursework for my Masters Degree). In short, I loved it. I think you will too.

        Tuesday, January 12, 2010


        I turned 34-years-old today. It feels oddly significant to me, though I'm not totally sure why. It may be because I got confused last year and thought I was turning 34 then, and was pleasantly surprised when I figured out my mistake. It may be because, as my friend Matthew Paul Turner reminded me this morning, I'm older than Jesus was at the time of his crucifixion. It may just be because I realize that if I live 34 more years, I'll be 68. Who knows? Maybe I'm just feeling particularly narcissistic and self-important today :)

        At any rate, today I'm thinking about my life. All in all, the first 34 years have been fantastic, full of wonder, love and adventure. The most amazing person I've ever met married me and agreed to spend the rest of her life with me. We became parents of 2 wonderful little girls who teach me, make me laugh, and leave me awestruck every day. I worked for 10 years in youth ministry and then transitioned into preaching. I earned a Master's Degree in Theological Studies from Lipscomb. I've taught at the university level. I've found a church home that legitimately feels like family. It's been a good 34 years.

        Additionally, I've also been thinking about what I'd like to do in the next 34 years:
        • I want to become as compassionate and loving as my wife.
        • I want my daughters to know beyond a shadow of a doubt how much I love them and how much I believe in them.
        • I want to continuously communicate to my wife how much I love, respect, admire, and appreciate her.
        • I want to write a good book and become a published author.
        • I want to make sure I communicate to my parents how much I appreciate who they are, and how thankful I am for the love and support they've given me.
        • I want to make sure my sister knows I'm proud of her.
        • I want to really learn how to play the guitar well.
        • I'd like to cultivate new friendships with people I haven't even met yet, while retaining and continuing to cultivate those friendships that have breathed life into me.
        • I want to pray and mediate more.
        • I want to continue to grow and learn every day for the rest of my life
        • I want to spend more time with people who make me laugh.
        • I want to be there more for people who cry.
        • I want to live a life full of shared moments that my wife and children will remember for the rest of my life...the kind of moments that will make them smile, even after I'm gone.
        • I want take better care of myself by eating better and exercising more.
        • I want to be an agent of hope, peace, love, and reconciliation
        • I want to be someone worthy of respect.
        • I want to care less who's watching
        • I want to reflect the characteristics of the God I see revealed in Jesus.
        • I want to listen more.
        • I want to learn to see each moment with a sense of wonder.
        • I want to make sure that my heart never becomes callous to the suffering of others.
        • I want to live a life worthy of the blessings I've been given.
        Grace and Peace,

        Tuesday, January 05, 2010

        A few words regarding Tiger Woods...

        Several months ago, I was troubled by the almost gleeful judgment and condemnation that was heaped onto Michael Jackson upon his death...often by people who claim to follow Jesus. Now, in the wake of the Tiger woods scandal, I am experiencing a sense of deja vu. Woods' actions were certainly immoral and he violated both his marriage vows and his wife's trust. This is between him and his family...not us. The truth is, he is a fallible human being, just like the rest of us...who seems to be struggling to put his life and maybe even his family back together. The second we can no longer feel sympathy for him, his wife, and his children as human beings, is the second we stop being human ourselves. Followers of Jesus are to be people of grace. We have received grace, and we are to embody it. Grace. Healing. Redemption. Reconciliation. Shouldn't people who have received (and are receiving) such things be the first to reflect it back to those who need it most?

        Sorry if I'm rambling, but it really bothers me. I'm reminded of a passage from David Dark's book The Sacredness of Questioning Everything:
        "Pervert is a verb, and we do it all the time. To pervert is to degrade, to cut down to size – and we do it to people in our minds. We devalue them. We reduce them to the limitations of our appetites, of our sense of what might prove useful to us, of our sense of what strikes us as appropriate. We often only file them away – these living and breathing human beings – into separate files of crazy-making issues-talk. When we think of a person primarily as a problem, a potential buyer, a VIP, a celebrity, or an undocumented worker, we’re reducing them to the tiny sphere of our stunted attention span. This is how perversion works. Perversion is a failure of the imagination, a failure to pay adequate attention.
        While perversion appears to be the modus operandi of governments and the transnational corporations they serve – and the language both speak in their broadcasts – the reductionism implicit in perversion doesn’t ultimately work. It doesn’t do justice to the fullness of what we are. We, the people, are always more than our use value. Like the God in whose image people are made, people are irreducible. There’s always more to a person – more stories, more life, more complexities – than we know. The human person, when viewed properly, is unfathomable, incalculable, and dear. Perversion always says otherwise. Perversion is a way of managing, getting down to business, getting a handle on people as if they were things. A person reduced to a thing has been, in the mind of the perverter, dispensed with, taken care of, filed away. Perversion is pigeonholing…
        I tried to share some of this with my high school students, and a fellow who’s always quick with an encouraging, conspiratorial smile walked up after class (always a rewarding experience) and said, “So we’re all perverts then.”
        “Yep,” I said. “But we aren’t only perverts. We certainly underestimate each other, misperceiving and misrepresenting other people from one moment to the next. But we also get it right sometimes. We aren’t just perverts. In fact, if we say of someone that he or she is a pervert and nothing but a pervert, we’re being perverts speaking perversely as perverts do.” Here I had to pause to take a breath. “Like calling someone a fool or an idiot. It’s one of those things Jesus tells us to never ever do. Calling someone a pervert without acknowledging our own inner pervert might lead to the destruction – or at least the perversion – of our own soul. We become perverts in our determination to catch a pervert.”

        Grace and Peace,