Archive for the ‘Truth’ category

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?

Human Trafficking Conference- Day One

October 9, 2009

We arrived at the church and I confess I am already frustrated. This place is a mall, only nicer. I wonder how much money was spent on the fancy decorations and lighting and sound equipment. I also noticed that over 90% of the people here are white, probably middle or upper middle class, attractive,  wearing plastered on smiles. I too am these things, perhaps sans the attractiveness and permanent smile. Where are the blacks, the Asians, the natives and the Hispanics? Where are the poor? Where are the oppressed, impoverished? People are dressed in outfits that are worth more than my car. Is it all a façade? Is it a way to make ourselves feel good about our convictions and conscience? Are we just trying to create meaning in a world that often seems so meaningless? I am guilty too. Lots of words, and anger and guilt for the injustice around me, but very little action, maybe even less serious prayer. How do the wealthy, educated, affluent and powerful combat widespread systemic injustices? Do we meet in million dollar church buildings patting each other on the back and raising awareness or is there something more to this? How do we speak truth to power when we are the powerful?

On another note, this morning we met and had a formation in common session with just our group. We started with 15 minutes of silence, which was uncomfortable yet peaceful. The we read together from the Asbury reader and discussed, Lectio Divina style, what the text was speaking to us. Mostly I took away that I need to just rest in the peace of God’s presence and the joy of his salvation, but now I am struggling with how that is tempered with God’s lament over our condition, especially our unawareness of the fetters of wealth, comfort, self-righteousness and homogeneity that bind our souls and keep them from soaring. I want to live and work with joy and peace, but I also want to feel the sense of outrage that I believe God feels when he sees a bunch of rich white folks bantering about changing the world in our million dollar facilities when our battle should be more in the trenches.

God, I am sorry if I am being judgemental. I am simply trying to express what I see and feel. Help me love church folks. Help me love myself. Help me love in a way that I see the image of God in those who trying so hard to create it in themselves. Help me love myself. Help me love those who only fight injustice from the safety of their pew and the comfort of being a safe distance from the bleeding hands and feet and human slaves. Help me love myself. Help me love those who shed rivers of tears on behalf of the oppressed but never shed any blood. Help me love myself. Help me love the readers and speakers, those full of knowledge and vision but lacking in practice and lifestyles of redemptive suffering and love. Help me love myself. Help me love, Lord, help me love.

As I hear the speakers give their various spiels I am much more encouraged, but still skeptical about what each of us does when we leave this place. I love the creative ideas been tossed about and the deep concern on behalf of the presenters. I am impressed with the fact that more people than I would have imagined are actually getting their hands dirty. However, I am wary about the ideas being put forth that we msut somehow depend on law or government to end these atrocities. This simply isn’t true. I don’t think it comes down to prosecutions or threats or coercion. The change we seek can only come through changed lives and hearts. I don’t think it’s the governments job, its our job to see this through. We arent ultimately aiming to end slavery, we are seeking to particpate in and promote the new humanity of God’s kingdom. Prosecution isn’t the answer. Love is.

Some of the quotes that stuck out to me are

“People are willing to leave their theology at the door to come together and combat this issue.” We cannot and must not leave our theology at the door because it informs our actions.

“We should aim to make these grass roots movements a part of the establishment.” Really?!?!

I know some of these thoughts may be a bit disjointed, but there is so much information being thrown at us and I havent had much time to process and reflect on most of it. Look for more to come.

Lenten Posts from Fellow CC Bloggers

March 10, 2009

I feel very fortunate to have been selected to join the CC Blogs Network because it gives me quick and regular access to a variety of great thoughts from a wide range of Christian thinkers, ministers, writers and practitioners. Here is a list of links from the CC Blogs Network on all sorts of issues related to Lent.

Don’t Eat Alone      The Connection      Pastor’s Post

Faith at Ease      Holy Vignettes      I-YOUniverse

Where the Wind      As the Deer      The Other Jesus

Mark Powell      Getting There      Ellen Haroutunian

Theolog      Welcoming Spirit      Living Word by Word

Where the Wind      Faith in Community      When Grace Happens

Theophiliacs J. Stambaugh      Theophiliacs A. Hunt      Everyday Liturgy

Available Light      Work in Progress      Allan Bevere

A Diner at the End of Time      The Painted Prayerbook      Just Words

The Church Geek      Breaking Fast on the Beach      The Pocket Mardis

Reflectionary      One Hand Clapping      Unorthodoxology

Philippians 3 Paraphrase

February 23, 2009

My favorite section of Scripture has got to be Philippians 3. In particular verses 7-11. Here is a paraphrase by my Father-in-law who has been a minister for about the last 30 years. I really like it so I thought I would share. You can check out his new CD ministry website here, his wedding business here, and his marriage preparation course here.

Philippians 3:1-16, As Paraphrased by Ralph Griggs

v. 1f
Brothers, there’s more I want to say to you. I want you to have a joy that doesn’t come and go with your good days and bad days trying to live for God. I know you have days when you don’t do your best, but that doesn’t mean you have to get down in the dumps & start wondering if God still loves you. The kind of joy I want for you doesn’t originate with us – it comes from the Lord Jesus. Find your joy in Him. By that I mean place your confidence in His goodness, and then you can sleep well at night knowing you are right with God.

I’m afraid that you might lose your confidence in Christ and begin to feel miserable about yourself. So it’s no problem for me to go over the same things with you again. Certain people will rob you of your joy. Stay away from them. You know who, the ones that like to call the Gentiles “dogs.” When they name call like that they should look in the mirror. They are scavenging street dogs roaming around growling at anything that comes near. Stay away from these diabolical people. They beat everyone over the head with their Torah Laws saying “do them all or your lost.” Since they don’t practice what they preach they are corrupt. It never dawns on them that when they point their finger at others, three fingers point back to themselves. By advocating a forgiveness through-law-keeping dogma they teach the exact opposite of our forgiveness through-Jesus-believing good news. And don’t get me started on their insistence that a physical circumcision is required in order for you to claim God’s promises. Stay away from these men who think they carefully mark the God-favored. I call them drunken physicians who only butcher the body.

v. 3f
They like to play the “We – Them” game. We are the ones God approves of, they say, everyone else hasn’t got a chance. I beg to differ. Who is really circumcised, them or us? They cut the flesh. So what! We are spiritually circumcised. This is not any kind of bodily surgery carried out by men that only changes the physical appearance. It is a spiritual operation done by Christ that changes minds and hearts for the better. So we worship by the Spirit, while they are stuck in the past slavishly performing the external temporary rituals that are now replaced by the reality. We don’t applaud ourselves for our good deeds but brag on what Christ has done. We’re not like them placing our bets of eternal life on ourselves.

Now, I can play their game by their rules. If winning means having a long list of religious credentials and accomplishments, then let’s have a parade and give me the victor’s wreath. Here’s my list. I came into this world through an obedient Jewish family. By the strict letter of the Law, they circumcised me on the 8th day. I was born a Jew with all the rights & privileges of the covenant people of Israel. Better still, I am from the highly respected tribe of Benjamin. You see I am 100% purebred Hebrew. Add to what I came by naturally all my hard work. When it came to keeping the Law of God, I was proud to bear the name Pharisee. No one was stricter than us. No one more careful in protecting the laws of God. No worked as tirelessly to keep our ways untainted from the influences of the Hellenists. I was infamous in my efforts to torment the church. I didn’t just pass a condemning sentence on the church with my words. No, I was aggressive and even violent – determined that if I had to kill one Christian at a time I would wipe the church off the face of the earth. When it came to being right and doing right, I had everything checked off the orthodoxy list.

v. 7f
By the standards of a rule-keeping perfectionist, I had loads of assets and no liabilities. But now because of Christ, everything’s reversed. My assets turned into liabilities in a day. I lost everything I had worked so hard for. And that may sound like a bad thing. But it isn’t. I got something of much greater value. Christ! It’s so much better to personally know Jesus Christ as Lord than to just know about a religion like I did.

There’s nothing wrong with being Jewish. Nothing wrong with having passion – though my zeal was way out of line with God’s will. And certainly there’s nothing wrong with God’s Law. The problem is in believing that we can get right with God through such accomplishments as mine, and those Judaizers I’m warning you about.

That’s why I let go of my Jewish heritage and achievements, or anything else you can think of to add to my claim to fame. The Jewish elders even stripped me of my status within Judaism. But I don’t care. Compared to knowing Christ, those things are garbage. Would you rather eat from last week’s trash, or have a fresh home cooked meal? Really, I haven’t lost, I’ve gained!

v. 9f
What I want now is to be found in Christ. Not try to win God’s approval by claiming a special linage or through perfectly keeping a “do this, don’t’ do that” religion, but through my conviction in what Christ did.

This is what I mean. Someday I’ll stand before God as my judge. The gavel will come down and He’ll make a legal declaration of my innocence or guilt. Which will it be? If I go there believing in myself & all the good things I’ve done; or if I go there and try to impress God with my knowledge of the factual academia of the Scriptures; or if I go spouting off about my pedigree – I’m doomed. I choose to go there with faith in Christ’s goodness. Being in Christ doesn’t mean that I think I’m sinless. It means that God will see Christ’s goodness covering over my badness. Amazingly, God’s grace will pronounce me innocent.

Before Christ found me, you know what I was doing? Making a name for myself in the brotherhood. You know what I want to do now? Know Christ. Not know about him, but to know him. And this is how I want to know Him. Through His resurrection power. My personal power was never enough to live perfectly. His resurrection reminds me that God in Christ did for me what I could never do for myself – that is, live good enough to have a right to heaven. Christ was good enough. God’s faultless Son took my place in His death making it possible for a just & holy God to forgive an unholy me. Then, to guarantee my resurrection, Christ was raised from the dead. That’s resurrection power and that power is my motivation to live for God in a way that the demands of the Law never could. The Law passed a death sentence on me. Christ pardoned me free and clear. The deeper that truth sinks in, the more I want to live for Him.

And this may sound strange to you, but I also want to know Christ by walking in His sandals, suffering like He did. Through suffering, I’ll better understand what Christ did for me and I’ll join in His God-given mission. And because He died, I want to die. Die to my sin, and if required, I’ll give my life too. The way I think now, suffering and dying is not the worst thing. Taking the easy way and dying without Christ is. As I write to you, that’s what I want. But I’m still human and it’s not always easy to follow through. But I’m determined not to let up, so that someday it will happen – God will raise me from the dead.

v. 12f
So don’t misunderstand. I haven’t completed my quest. It was more than 20 years ago that Christ claimed me on the Damascus Road. His goal for me was that I would come to know Him. I haven’t reached it completely, but I’m making every effort to achieve the goal He chose me for.

Brothers listen, I’m going to say it again. I know better than anyone that I’m not there yet. My personal experience of Christ and His life-changing power in me is incomplete. But I’ve turned the corner and I’m like a runner with his eye fixed on the finish line. One thing for sure is that I’m never returning to the way I lived before Christ put me on this course. That’s in the past. If I go back to that it’ll defeat any chance of my reaching the goal. Today & tomorrow and as long as God gives me breath, I’m going all out for the finish line. Then I can win my prize – eternal life. With God’s help, I’ll get there someday.

v. 15
That’s the big picture. Those of us who have grown spiritually know that none of us have arrived spiritually.

I know that we have different takes on some minor issues. In time God will help us figure those things out. But right now, we all know we’ve got some things to work on in our lives. Let’s get busy doing what we already know we need to do.

My Favorite MLK Speech

January 19, 2009

Everyone knows Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” which is certainly one of the best speeches given in modern history, but it is not my favorite speech by this prophetic visionary. I prefer his “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top/ Promised Land” speech given on April 3, 1968 at the Mason Temple in Memphis, just one day before he was assassinated. 

In this brilliant homily, Dr. King seems to foreshadow his own assassination. What strikes me most is the way that the truth, “true love drives out all fear,” is evident in both his voice and word. Because he loves God and his fellow man and knows that God loves him, he is confident that even though his flesh may be harmed he need not fear for his soul will rest safely with the Almighty.

This speech gives me chills every time I hear it. Now it is my hope and prayer that I can live a life without fear of those who can hurt my flesh and that I will love unconditionally and serve sacrificially, trusting in Jesus, so that I too will someday see the promised land.

Living in Paradox

December 13, 2008

Wow…. Just Live in the Tension…

Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to’another due,
Labor to’admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly’I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me,’untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you’enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.  – John Donne 

 

Recklessly abandoning all thoughts of my control, trust is never thought to cost more than the rescue of my soul, You, You are mad with love and only you make sense, and with love you are intoxicating to the brim.

I have no problem  laying down my problems at your feet, but I am just not sure about giving up my dreams to someone like you,  Oh Madman Divine, My darkest nightmare, you’re the only Light in sight.

And You are the empitome of unpredictability, and to be honest with You, You scare the hell outta me.

I have no problems laying down my problems at your feet, but I am just not sure about giving up my dreams to someone like you, Oh Madman Divine. And my darkest nightmare is You’re the only Light in sight.

-Lyrics from a song by one of my best friends, Zach Lycans

Quotes: The Early Church on War and Violence

November 19, 2008

One of my best friends is studying in hopes of earning a Ph.D. in Early Church History. Thanks to his influence and my desire to study Christian Ethics I have become more and more interested in these early radical followers of the Way. In particular, I have come to love and appreciate their convictions about war and violence, especially in light of the persecution they faced for their faith.

Marcellus, ?-298 A.D. 

“I threw down my arms for it was not seemly that a Christian man, who renders military service to the Lord Christ, should render it by earthly injuries.” “It is not lawful for a Christian to bear arms for any earthly consideration.” 

Ignatius of Antioch, approx. 35-110 A.D.

“Take heed, then, often to come together to give thanks to God, and show forth His praise. For when ye assemble frequently in the same place, the powers of Satan are destroyed, and the destruction at which he aims is prevented by the unity of your faith. Nothing is more precious than peace, by which all war, both in heaven and earth, is brought to an end.”

Irenaeus, approx. 180 A.D.

“Christians have changed their swords and their lances into instruments of peace, and they know not now how to fight.” 

Justin Martyr, approx. 138 A.D.

“The devil is the author of all war.” “We, who used to kill one another, do not make war on our enemies. We refuse to tell lies or deceive our inquisitors; we prefer to die acknowledging Christ.” 

Tertullian, 155-230 A.D.

“But now inquiry is being made concerning these issues. First, can any believer enlist in the military? Second, can any soldier, even those of the rank and file or lesser grades who neither engage in pagan sacrifices nor capital punishment, be admitted into the church? No on both counts—for there is no agreement between the divine sacrament and the human sacrament, the standard of Christ and the standard of the devil, the camp of light and the camp of darkness. One soul cannot serve two masters—God and Caesar…But how will a Christian engage in war—indeed, how will a Christian even engage in military service during peacetime—without the sword, which the Lord has taken away? For although soldiers had approached John to receive instructions and a centurion believed, this does not change the fact that afterward, the Lord, by disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier.”  

“Under no circumstances should a true Christian draw the sword.” 

Origen of Alexandria, 185-254 A.D.

“We have come in accordance with the counsel of Jesus to cut down our arrogant swords of argument into plowshares, and we convert into sickles the spears we formerly used in fighting. For we no longer take swords against a nation, nor do we learn anymore to make war, having become sons of peace for the sake of Jesus, who is our Lord.” 

Hippolytus, 170-236 A.D.

“A soldier, being inferior in rank to God, must not kill anyone. If ordered to, he must not carry out the order, nor may he take an oath (sacramentum) to do so. If he does not accept this, let him be dismissed from the church. Anyone bearing the power of the sword, or any city magistrate, who wears purple, let him cease from wearing it at once or be dismissed from the church. Any catechumen or believer who wishes to become a soldier must be dismissed from the church because they have despised God.”

“A person who has accepted the power of killing, or a soldier, may never be received [into the church] at all.” 

Cyprian, approx. 250 A.D.

“[Christians] are not allowed to kill, but they must be ready to be put to death themselves… it is not permitted the guiltless to put even the guilty to death.” “God wished iron to be used for the cultivation of the earth, and therefore it should not be used to take human life.”

Ambrose, 338-397 A.D.

“The soldiers of Christ require neither arms nor spears of iron.” “The servants of God do not rely for their protection on material defenses but on the divine Providence.” 

Theophilus of Antioch, approx. 412 A.D.

Say to those that hate and curse you, you are our brothers! 

Tatian, 2nd Century A.D.

I do not wish to be a ruler. I do not strive for wealth. I refuse offices of military command. 

These are just a few quotes from the writings of early Christ-followers. I encourage you to look them up and find out more. Then ask questions like:  Were these Christians right? What does this mean for the church today? Why does most of the church take a radically different position today? How can we revive this ancient spirit and way of life?