Archive for the ‘Scripture’ category

My ‘Ghetto’ Ride: Appearance, Character and Being Self-Conscious (Confessions 1)

February 19, 2011

Over the winter holiday break my wife and I joined some other family members on a trip to France and Belgium, a subject to which I hope to return in another post, but when we got back we experienced a small misadventure. We flew into Nashville from Europe and had to leave immediately from the airport to drive back to Kentucky so we could be home in time for work and school the next day. It is about a 3.5 hour drive, but about 20 mins from our house (mind you this is after walking across the city of Brugges to the train station, catching a train back to Paris, transfering from the train to the metro, riding the metro to the airport, flying from Paris to DC and DC to Nashville) our car died on one of the most deserted highways in KY. In short, we had it towed to a mechanic who told us the engine was dead.

As we search for a ‘new’ car we have been blessed by God, through our church family, to have access to two different cars until we find one we can afford to buy. The first of the two was a comfortable and reliable ride, nothing fancy, but still decent enough. However, the second, which I have been driving for the last few days, resembles the residence of Oscar the Grouch. It is a rust-brown Buick station wagon from the mid 90’s with busted windshield, barf-colored interior, mismatched wheels, and no rear view mirror. The engine rattles and bangs, that is when it even starts and stays running, the driver’s door makes a horrible hiss when opened and shut, it smokes a little and certainly does not have ‘that new car smell.’

As I was filling it up with gas today across the street from campus, I couldn’t help but want to keep my head down so others wouldn’t notice me with this hideous beastmobile. When someone I know has seen me driving it I feel compelled to explain to them that this isn’t my car or to make jokes about it to distract their attention from the fact that I am cruising, if one could call it crusing, around in such a ‘ghetto’ ride. Damn, am I really that shallow?

Two things stand out to me about my attitude regarding this car. First of all, I am an ungrateful jerk. God and my church family have provided me a way to get around, which I really needed since Rachel and I work in different cities and public transportation is virtually nonexistent around here, and the best I can do is be self-conscious about how ugly the car is. Second, and the focus of the rest of this post, is the fact that I even care so much about what others think about my appearance. Wasn’t I supposed to get over that crap sometime in college?

I have been particularly aware, perhaps because of the car, of my self-consciousness. I spend a lot of time wondering what folks in restaurants are thinking about my clothes and hair, and what the folks next to me at the stoplight are saying to each other about the car I am driving. I want to tell them all about my achievements, my education, my travels – anything to prove my worth to them. But, who really gives a damn what others think about my clothes or my car? Should my focus not be on what folks think about my character, and more precisely my character itself?

The bible doesn’t say much about what Christians are supposed to wear, instead it says to clothe ourselves “ with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” Yet all I seem to do is try to gratify my desire to be liked, to be valued. The bible gives one more exhortation about what we ought to cover ourselves in, it says “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” In other words, clothe ourselves in the kind of character that supersedes the kind of shallow junk that keeps you from being like Christ.

In my case, perhaps I could put it this way, drive around in the car of Christlike character and quit worrying so damn much about what others think about insignificant things like a beat up station wagons with broken windshields. If you only think of Jesus and the needs of others, your mind cannot be occupied with your own superficial desires for affirmation.

More confessions to come…

Theology and Public Transportation

May 15, 2010

I wrote this a few months ago while I was living in Washington, DC and working at Sojourners. It is my hope to write more about my DC experience in coming days…

I heard a sermon in which the speaker asked a silly, but profoundly important question. He asked the chapel full of seminarians where the most important location was in the small town in which the school is located. Is it this chapel with its beautiful stained glass and singing? Is it the building that houses the classrooms where you learn theology and philosophy? Is it one of the local church congregations? No. It is Cluckers (the local gas station). The speaker went onto to posit that he believed that Cluckers was important because it was where the world collided in our small town to refuel, talk about the goings on, grab a drink and eat the best baklava this side of the Mediterranean.

Things are different for me now. I’m living in a major world city, where I often use public transportation. Like Cluckers, public transportation, in such a metropolitan city, is where the world meets. Rich and poor, powerful and powerless, young and old, all pile into buses and the metro. This is a great place to people watch and think and pray. One day as I was doing this I was reminded of the Joan Osborn song, “What if God Was One of Us?” There is a line directly following the title line, ‘just a stranger on the bus, trying to make his way home.’ I got to thinking about what Jesus would notice, and say and do if he were riding the metro. I began to think he would be pleased to see societies’ hierarchies and barriers temporarily removed as nearly every socio-economic background, religion and race huddled together trying not to fall down as the train jerked forward.

Though the more I ride, I notice something I believe would disturb Jesus and should disturb us. As I rode certain lines in certain directions the demographics changed. Instead of a multicultural mélange, the faces on the metro became more homogenous. One could almost know which stop was theirs by looking at the number of people in the car who did or did not look like them. I wonder how Jesus would react. Would he start flipping over the turnstiles or would he stand on a seat and preach? Would he heal the blind man standing by the door or would he multiply the amount of money still left on everyone’s ticket? I don’t know, but I’m sure that he would do something, perhaps something crazy, certainly something creative, to let people know that they were loved and cherished by God.

As people interested in reconciliation, the way of Jesus, this modern day segregation should sadden us, inform us and challenge us to keep working for a world where love and justice are the norm; a world where skin color, your country of origin or the language you speak don’t have to play a role in deciding which area of town you should live. I am not suggesting that there is anything wrong with wanting to live with people who are most like you. There is however a terrible evil lurks just below the surface of this desire that works its way into our lives when we get too comfortable with where we live and with whom we associate. This evil is complacency and apathy towards the struggles of the ‘other’ and it is a structure, a principality in which individuals are content with being walled off with folks like them and failing to join in the journeys of others for more than a short metro ride.

What if our whole lives looked like the line for baklava and a soda, or the trip on the red line metro train? What if we were intentional about meeting people most unlike us and participating in their lives, helping them when they needed it and sharing our food, our journeys and our lives together? The moments we share when our paths cross on the metro, subway, or bus look more and more to me like our local church congregations ought to and the way heaven appears in Scripture. If we can get together to share our journeys to work and school and to restaurants and stores, why can’t we get together and share our journey into eternity?

Christian Anarchy and Voting- A Recap

January 8, 2010

A lot of people have been asking me lately about my stance on voting and Christians serving in government offices. Since I have already written a good bit about my particular understanding of the Christian responsibility in political engagement I thought I would just compile all of those posts here so I can direct people to one place.

I thought I would start with this powerful song by Derek Webb.

This concise non-voting manifesto (and updated version) by Professor Tripp York is also a useful resource, and generally sums up my position.

Mark Van Steenwyk also offers his ten reasons for not voting at Jesus Radicals.

This is an excerpt by Andy Alexis-Baker from the book Electing Not to Vote, and this post is specifically about the 2012 election.

In this piece  Chris Smith writes about incarnational theology and non-voting.

Early American church leader, David Lipscomb wrote a great book on the topic of Christians and government. Here is an excerpt on voting. Historian Mcgarvey Ice briefly examines Lipscomb’s nonvoting stance.

Joshua Jeffery follows Lipscomb and talks about the choice not to vote.

Alasdair MacIntyre says in this piece, “The way to vote against the system is not to vote.”

There are often connections between nonviolence and the Christian anarchy. Keegan Osinski and Mark Caudill discuss some of those connections and their reasons for not voting.

I wrote a fairly popular series of posts a while back entitled Would Jesus Vote? The basic idea was to chronicle some of the reasons I believe Christians should be wary of participating in the government on any level. So here they are:  One, Two, Three and Four.

One of my ethics classes required that I write a paper about Christians and political engagement. It was one of my favorite papers of my scholastic career so I thought I would share it with you here.

The term Christian Anarchy understandably makes a lot of people uncomfortable  so I have this post trying to help people have a better understanding of the phrase. After all, as Tolstoy said, “The Kingdom of God is anarchy.”

Kurt Willems has a new series at Red Letter Christians on Jesus and nationalism. Check out part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 and part 5.

For those of you who arent quite convinced, then at least consider this post before you vote.

I also have several posts that more indirectly get at the issues around the Christian Anarchy stance including this one on True Freedom which lists some of the most important basic understandings of being a part of God’s Kingdom. In a similar vein, this post attempts to demonstrate the radical differences between God’s Kingdom and the nations of this world.

Finally, there are some other issues such as war, abortion, immigration and poverty that play an important part in this discussion so I offer this post of some resources about these issues and this post specifically about war.

My request is that you prayerfully consider these ideas and search out God’s will in your life and in the world, and above all, declare with your life and words that Jesus is King!

Poverty and Advent

December 1, 2009

Its rare for me to hear a new Christian song these days that really hits me right in the gut, but today in Chapel I was introduced to just such a song. The service was focusing on the eschatological hope that we have in the birth of Jesus and his  return, and the lives we should live as a result. This song, by Jason Upton, closed out the service.

There’s a power in poverty that breaks principalities
And brings the authority’s down to their knees
There’s a brewing frustration and ageless temptation
To fight for control by some manipulation

But the God of the kingdoms and the God of the Nations
The God of creation sends his revelation
Thru the homeless and penniless Jesus the son
The poor will inherit the Kingdom to come

Where will we turn when our world falls apart
And all of the treasures we’ve stored in our barns
Can’t buy the Kingdom of God?

Who will we praise when we’ve praised all our lives
men who build Kingdoms and men who build fame but heaven does not know their names

What will we fear when all that remains
Is God on His throne, with a child in his arms,
and love in his eyes
And the sound of his heart cries

You should have heard my buddy Drew sing it as well. It echoed through the chapel and straight into the hearts of my fellow journeyers and I.

Human Trafficking Conference- Helpful Links

October 9, 2009

So far today the most useful presentation was about monitoring supply changes. It was especially helpful because several organizations’ websites were given out, from groups that advocate on behalf of the poor to consumer watchdog groups to grass roots movements.

Here are the links and a brief description about each. I hope you find these to be informative and inspiring. This an issue that the church must find itself combating as a part of our witness as Jesus, the One who befriended the lowest of the low.

The International Labor Rights Forum is a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to achieving just and humane treatment for workers worldwide. They also provide information about the labor practices of various companies and even information about labor laws around the world.

The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility seeks to encourage businesses to act in a socially responsible way.

MADE-BY is an independent consumer label for fashion companies who continuously improve and are transparent about the social, economic and ecological conditions throughout the whole supply chain of their collections.

The Not For Sale Campaign equips and mobilizes Smart Activists to deploy innovative solutions to re-abolish slavery in their own backyards and across the globe.

International Justice Mission is a human rights agency that secures justice for victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression.

Proxy Democracy is an organization that helps investors find companies that have ethical practices and connect to other investors to work synergistically to open information streams and encourage corporations to be ethical.

The Story of Stuff creatively chronicles the underside of our production and consumption patterns, and exposes the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues, and calls us together to create a more sustainable and just world. It’ll teach you something, it’ll make you laugh, and it just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever.

Free 2 Work provides a databaseof companies from around the world so you can independently search, report, and verify known labor practices. This one may be particularly helpful as we try to decide what products to buy.

Responsible Shopper reports on global research and campaign information regarding the impact of major corporations on human rights, social justice, environmental sustainability and more.

The Good Guide provides the world’s largest and most reliable source of information on the health, environmental, and social impacts of the products in your home. This means you can find out if your products were made by forced labor or with environmentally harmful materials and processes.

The Trade Observatory works with organizations around the world to analyze how global trade agreements impact domestic farm and food policies. Alongside a global coalition, and advocates for fair trade policies that promote strong health standards, labor and human rights, the environment and, most fundamentally, democratic institutions.

Earth Rights International combats human rights violations through advocation, organization, education and litigation.

Chain Store Reaction provides information about tons of brands and provides an easy opportunity to contact these companies to encourage them to investigate and end slavery in their supply chains.

I believe that when Jesus said he came to set the captives free that he didnt just free their souls for heaven, he showed with his life that he came to set people free from the slavery of poverty and greed and abuse and oppression as well. Join the Carpenter from Nazareth and take part in freeing slaves and acting in a restorative and redemptive way in this world. No more excuses!!!

Human Trafficking Conference- Travel

October 8, 2009

I was given the chance to travel with a group from Asbury to the Global Conference on Human Trafficking in Carlsbad, California. Here are some of my thoughts from the trip to California. There will be more thoughts and reflections from the conference from myself and others in our group.

As we are flying to a conference on one of the great atrocities of our day, of any day, I cant help but wonder how my own lust, addictions, indulgences and apathy have contributed to the brokenness of this world where people think it is ok to own another human being for their own pleasure. How has my falleness rippled out in both the physical and spiritual realms, empowering the evil one and his minions while galvanizing the chains that hold his enemies, oppressed and oppressors, in bondage? Or do I give my own wretched, sinful existence too much credit? Are my contributions of deadly desires and limitless complacency enough to give an ounce of power to the dammed deceiver? If so, are the rare moments of surrender to God in me really destroying the wicked systems of the world by bearing witness to the true reality of God’s Kingdom?

It is my deepest hope, or at least my best hope, that somehow, someday I will live and act and speak like Jesus. My own damn vanity and pride, my indifference for the situations of others and my longing for momentary acceptance and my fear of both success and failure all act as the brick and mortar that imprison me. But, it is the destructive grace of God on which I depend, to keep razing the fortress in which I have held myself captive. I know that he will, his Kingdom will, destroy hell’s gates and let all of those who dare escape run free. It is this trust, that if God’s power can level gates of pure evil, He can and will overwhelm my pride and all of my best and worst intentions.

Christians and Politics: Abstinence is the Best Policy

June 28, 2009

This is a short paper I wrote, for an ethics class, about responsible engagement of the political sphere by Christians. I of course take the position that Christians should not get themselves tangled up in the worldly political game, but I was required to give a brief positive assessment of competing views so I did that although I am not convinced that the “positives” of other views are truly strengths at all. It is a very basic, perhaps even elementary, assessment but I believe it to be a sufficient introduction to this position.

The Distinct Polity of the Church is Political Enough: Why Christians Should Abstain from Civil Governmental Politics

by Justin Bronson

I am persuaded that the most faithful way for Christians to engage the political sphere is by being a distinct polity unto themselves operating on the principle of imitating Christ’s example of cross-bearing love. In my view this precludes the participation of Christians in government, but requires us to transform the political sphere by questioning the powers, and exposing any sin by openly provoking them to direct their evil towards us just as Christ did. This could perhaps be viewed as a sort of mediation between Niebuhr’s Christ against culture, and Christ the transformer of culture.[i] We participate in what I will call selective engagement, meaning not that we choose when we are going to engage, but how we are going to engage the political sphere; specifically that we reject governmental positions and create our own peculiar polity of Christ-like living.

In Scripture we can see both apodictic and casuistic[ii] teachings[iii], and examples, particularly in the person of Christ; as well as an overarching, at least in the NT, principle of humble, self-sacrificial service[iv] as opposed to “fighting” worldly political battles as the means to transforming the world. This informs a position of selective engagement. Themes such as Satan being the god of this age[v], Jesus’ example of rejection of earthly power[vi], the demonic influence in government[vii] and of Christians being foreigners in earthly kingdoms[viii] all point to an idea of selective engagement. Our primary grounds for this selective engagement is, as already mentioned, the life of Christ. Instead of taking the kingdoms Satan offered,[ix] entering Jerusalem as the conquering earthly king, calling legions of angels,[x] or getting caught up in the politics of his day; Jesus rejected Satan’s offer of power,[xi] entered Jerusalem on a lowly donkey, died alone on a cross[xii], and called all people to take up their crosses and follow him.[xiii] Perhaps the best representative verse of Christ in this light is Col 2:15, “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”[xiv]

Many early Christians, the Anabaptist movement, and multiple contemporary theologians/ethicists, have also called the church to be its own polity as a way of influencing the world and subverting the current political sphere. Tertullian will, for this essay, serve as an example of the early Christian call to selective engagement. According to Hollinger, Tertullian believed “Christians were to refrain from political life because it involved emperor worship.”[xv] Although the American context does not require emperor worship, it does demand allegiance. This is something we as Christians cannot give because our sole allegiance is to Christ. This is where I would fall in line with Niebuhr’s assessment of Christ against culture when he says this approach “uncompromisingly affirms the sole authority of Christ over the Christian and rejects cultures’ claims to loyalty.”[xvi]

The Anabaptists picked up on this thinking and refused to let the church be defined by geography, and believed that government was unnecessary for Christians because the church was the their polity.[xvii] The Schleitheim Confession unabashedly declares that Christians should not be involved in government, pointing to the example of Christ[xviii] and the need for separation from the evils of the world[xix]. However, it wasn’t that they, and others like them,[xx] just wanted to be against culture. This is evidenced in Yoder’s critique of Niebuhr’s assessment of Christ against culture. Yoder points to an amalgamation with “Christ transforming culture”[xxi], when he says it’s “about devotion to the way of Christ, which at points conflicts with culture and society.”[xxii]

Contemporary theologians[xxiii] have also delved into this idea, including Stanley Hauerwas who says “The church does not exist to provide an ethos for democracy or any other form of social organization but stands as a political alternative to every nation, witnessing to the kind of social life possible for those that have been formed by the story of Christ.”[xxiv] Martin Luther King Jr. did not completely reject the notion of Christians in government, but he witnessed to the conflict between government and Christian ideals and called for a negotiation that ultimately seeks justice.[xxv]

Christians have also taken opposing views, each with particular strengths. Many, like Calvin, believed the church should indeed be involved in government[xxvi] claiming that those who refused to do so were “frantic and barbarous men are furiously endeavoring to overturn the order established by God.”[xxvii] The focus on God’s sovereignty, even in the political realm, and Christians’ use of the established order to advance kingdom ideals are strengths of this position. Others, like Luther proposed, that it is acceptable, but not necessary for Christians to be involved in government. His distinction between the two kingdoms[xxviii] allowed for Christian participation while not mandating it. He also proposed that the government should not be governed by Christian ideals. This has a particular strength because it attempts to keep the church and the state from getting too muddled while allowing for freedom of Christians to pursue any vocation in which he or she can do good. These views, and similar ones, have the three primary strengths of a broad range of influence and the possibility of “immediate” effectiveness, as well as the necessary power to enact proposed changes. The belief is, if a Christian can rightly participate in government he or she can enact good over a large number of people and possibly in a relatively short amount of time and to a great extent make sure it happens.

All of these things considered, it is my belief that Christians should actively engage society and the political sphere by being a separate and distinct polity. We therefore should avoid direct involvement in government such as serving as a governing official. The witness of Christ, the New Testament, various historical and contemporary individuals and movements have persuaded me that although the church can certainly bring about good through government; ultimately our responsibility is to be faithful to Christ as Lord and we must therefore take up our crosses and not the sword of power. We must imitate Jesus and not Caesar if we are ever going to change the world.

 


[i] Hollinger, Dennis, Choosing the Good: Christian Ethics in a Complex World (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002) 191-197, 208-213

[ii] Pohl, Christine- Class Handout,  Forms of Ethical Guidance in Scripture

[iii] Luke 9:48, John 10:37

[iv] E.g. Matt. 5:3ff, 16:24, Acts 20:18-21, Eph 6:12, Phil 2:3

[v] E.g. 2 Cor 4:4

[vi] E.g. John 6:15, Luke 4:7f

[vii] E.g. Luke 4:6, Eph 6:12, Col 2:15

[viii] E.g. 1 Pet 2:11

[ix] Luke 4:5f

[x] Matt 26:43

[xi] Luke 4:8

[xii] E.g. Matt 27:46

[xiii] E.g. Mark 8:34

[xiv] RSV

[xv] Hollinger p192

[xvi] Hollinger p191

[xvii] Hollinger p194

[xviii] Boulton, Wayne G., Thomas D. Kennedy, and Allen Verhey, eds., From Christ to the World: Introductory Readings in Christian Ethics p286

[xix] Boulton p284

[xx] See for example Leo Tolstoy, Dorothy Day, Jacques Ellul, Vernard Eller, David Lipscomb and Various Monastic movements

[xxi] Hollinger p208

[xxii] Hollinger p194

[xxiii] Notably Vernard Eller, John Howard Yoder, Greg Boyd, Lee Camp and Richard Hughes

[xxiv] Hollinger p55

[xxv] Boulton p429

[xxvi] Hollinger p209

[xxvii] Calvin, John. Of Civil Government Ch. 20 http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.vi.xxi.html

[xxviii] Pohl, Christine- Class notes Christ and Culture in Paradox from Martin Luther