Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Pastor's response to his Government declaring war (?)

How should a pastor of the Gospel respond when his government declares war? Even if that decleration seems to be justified?
Well, here's one possible response from a civil war era pastor.
It's a great read, enjoy.


Monday, April 9, 2012

The Great Satan

I am currently working through NT Wright's fascinating book, Simply Jesus. In the midst of all kinds of powerful and challenging things I'm learning from this book, came across this gem that relates to the current theme of my blog; nonviolence. It makes sense, though, one cannot study the life and teachings of Jesus without being continually confronted by Jesus' love for his (and our) enimies and his expectation that his followers extend that same love (as opposed to violence). So enjoy and then read the book for yourself.

As C.S. Lewis points out in the introduction to his famous, “Screwtape Letters,” the modern world divides into those who are obsessed with demonic power and those who mock them as outdated rubbish. Neither approach, Lewis insists, does justice to the reality. I’m with Lewis on this. Despite the caricatures, the obsessions, and the sheer muddle that people often get themselves into on this subject, there is such a thing as a dark force that seems to take over people, movements, and sometimes whole countries, a force or (as it sometimes seems) a set of forces that can make people do things they would never normally do.

You might have thought the history of the twentieth century would provide plenty of examples of this, but many still choose to resist the conclusion – despite the increasing use in public life of the language of “force” (economic “forces”, political “forces,” peer “pressure,” and so on). In recent scholarship, Walter Wink in particular has offered a sharp and compelling analysis of “the powers” and the way they function in today’s world as much as in yesterday’s. The psychotherapist Scott Peck wrote a book, “People of the Lie,” about a small but significant number of his clients who had, it seemed, bought so deeply into unreality that they appeared to have been taken over by dark forces beyond themselves. The post-Enlightenment idea that such language reeks of medieval superstition is too simplistic by half. Granted the split-level world of Enlightenment thought, we should perhaps expect that we wouldn’t have very good language for talking about a reality that is neither divine nor reducible to terms of the ordinary material world. But this should not stop us from trying to come to grips with the reality in question.

Without the perspective that sees evil as a dark force that stands behind human reality, the issue of “good” and “bad” in our world is easy to decipher. It is fatally easily, and I mean fatally easy, to typecast “people like us” as basically good and “people like them” as basically evil. This is a danger we in our day should be aware of, after the disastrous attempts by some Western leaders to speak about an “axis of evil” and then go to war to obliterate it. We turn ourselves into angels and “the other lot” into demons; we “demonize” our opponents. This is a convenient tool for avoiding having to think, but it is disastrous for both our thinking and our behavior.

But when you take seriously the existence and malevolence of non-human forces that are capable of using “us” as well as “them” in the service of evil, the focus shifts. As the hazy and shadowy realities come into view, what we thought was clear and straightforward becomes blurred. Life becomes more complex, but arguably more realistic. The traditional lines of friend and foe are not so easy to draw. You can no longer assume that “that lot” are simply agents of the devil and “this lot” – us and our friends – are automatically on God’s side. If there is an enemy at work, it is a subtle, cunning enemy, much too clever to allow itself to be identified simply with one person, one group, or one nation. Only twice in the gospel story does Jesus address, “the satan” directly by that title: once when rebuking him in the temptation narrative (Matt 4:10), and again when he is rebuking his closest associate (Mark 8:33) for resisting God’s strange plan. The line between good and evil is clear at the level of God, on the one hand, and the satan, on the other. It is much, much less clear as it passes through human beings, individually and collectively.

This is precisely the kind of redefinition that was going on in Jesus’ Nazareth Manifesto (Luke 4:14-20). Traditional enemies were suddenly brought, at least in principle, within reach of the blessing of God’s great jubilee. And traditional friends – those who might have thought that they were automatically on the right side – had to be looked at again. Perhaps one can no longer simply identify “our people” as on the side of the angels and “those people” as agents of the satan. That’s why Jesus was run out of town and nearly killed. He had suggested that foes could become friends and by implication was warning that the “good people” – Israel as the people of God – might become enemies. Ironically, his own townsfolk proceeded to prove the point by their reaction.

Ruthless Trust

After my teaching stint ended, I received a Facebook message from a high school friend who is also a teacher and who shares my passion for nonviolence and kingdom-equality. She said something about how now that I'm experiencing the disillusionment of failing in an attempt to change the world, I needed to read Brennan Manning's book, Ruthless Trust. Now that I've finished the book, I am deeply grateful that the friend recommended the book. Here is a quote very appropriate to my situation.

"We formulate plans to fulfill what we perceive to be the purpose of our lives
(inevitably limited), and when the locomotive of our longings gets derailed, we
deem ourselves failures... Our disappointments arise from presuming to know
the outcome of a particular endeavor."

Yes. Nothing is wasted by God but things rarely happen the way we think they should. The same was true of Trinity Family; things didn't all happen the way I thought they should but God brought about beautiful things I never even thought to expect.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Some Good Friday Thoughts

Here are two great quotes from "The Cross Shattered Christ" by Stanley Hauerwas.

"The silence of Jesus before Pilate can now be understood for what it is -
namely, that Jesus refuses to accept the termsof how the world understands
power and authority... We seek to 'explain' these words [My God, my God, why have
you forsaken me] of dereliction, to save and protect God from
making a foodl out of being God, but our attempts to protect God reveal how
frightening we find a God who refuses to save us by violence."

"'Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world'- Pascal; This is a remark
that makes unaviodable the recognition that we live in the time between the
times - the Kingdom is begun in Christ but will not be consumated or perfected
until the end of the world... [Pascal's comment] is an exhortation not to become
nostaligic for a supposedly less compromised past or take refuge in some imagined
purified future, but to dwell in the tension-filled time between times, to remain
awake to our inability 'to stay in the almost unbearable present moment where
Jesus is."

Thursday, April 5, 2012

What Every Person Should Know about War

Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer prize winning foreign correspondent who has covered many wars as well as global terrorism. Hedges has also won an award with Amnesty International. For this book, “What Every Person Should Know about War” Hedges teamed up with various military experts and worked to answer (and footnote) almost any question any soon to be soldier could ever ask about war. The following are a few interesting statements I thought were worth passing along.

Will I be more likely to abuse my spouse?
Yes. One Army survey of 55,000 soldiers at 47 bases showed that one of every three families has suffered some kind of domestic violence, from slapping to murder. This is twice the rate found in similar groups of civilians. The Pentagon has disclosed that an average of one child or spouse dies each week at the hands of a relative in the military.

What happens to my mind if I am afraid?
It becomes hardere to kill. When people are afraid or angry they do not think with their forebrains. They think with the midbrain. The midbrain harbors a deep instinct against killing one’s own kind. The military combats this with repeated traning. You will be rewarded for being able to overcome this instinct. It is the same principle used to train dogs.

What are the negative aspects of my training?
The conflict between forebrain and midbrain may be the source of several long-term psychological consequences of combat and killing. Those who survive combat have a greater chance of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Must I always avoid killing civilians?
No. You may cause civilian casualties if you are attacking a legitimate target. You may be forced to shoot an enemy if he or she is using civilians as human shields. Civilians are not combatants and are not lawful targets unless they take part in the hostilities against you and are a threat to you.

What will happen to my body after I die?
A doctor will pronounce you dead while you are still in the field. Your body will be put on a stretcher and taken to a collection site. You will be laid out on a tarp with others who died in battle. The collection site, if possible, will be out of sight of the wounded and fresh replacements. Your personal effects will be removed from your pockets. These effects will be placed in a plastic bag and marked with your name, date of birth, and Social Security number. Your weapon, ammunition, and any other government property will be set aside for reuse.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Making Room for Thy Kingdom Come

A great quote on making room for the Kingdom from “Missional Small Groups.”

“It is okay to talk about spiritual things in church. We can talk about prayer, living morally upright, ‘getting saved,’ God’s love for us, and other topics that fit nicely into sixty to niney-minute spiritual escape on Sunday morning. But it is not okay to tlak about the spiritual implications related to how we spend our money or our time. Those are private matters that should be left to individual choices.

But the Bible actually speaks quite a lot about these very practical, mundane matters of life. Things like greed, anxiety, self-promotion, and priorities in life fill the pages of God’s Word. To limit God to a box labeled ‘spiritual’ is to miss the point of biblical spirituality. The way we do life in mundane things – like how we handle our money and manage our time – directly impacts our life with God. We often fail to realize how the little decisions we make every day about seemingly insignificant things can actually undermine the rhythms that God has called us to play in the world.

Simplicity is something that results from having what Richard Foster calls a ‘divine Center.’ When we ‘seek first God’s Kingdom and his righteousness’ (Matthew 6:33), God beings to reorient our lives so that we have space in our lives to love him and others more. Jesus becomes our vision and focus and then the Spirit of God begins to order our life, our commitments, our priorities, and our spending. If we start by establishing a specific list of acceptable ways to spend our time and money, we only have anxiety about whether we are doing it right. And we don’t need any more anxiety in this age. But if we understand that simplicity is a way to allow the love of God to move through us more freely, then it becomes a choice of love, not an act of legalism.

To seek first the Kingdom means that we must make room for the Kingdom of God in our lives. If we expect to develop a divine Center without making some hard choices about how we do life, then we are sorely mistaken. Making room in our lives so we can love more freely will require us to make hard choices – choices that go against the flow of culture.”

Monday, April 2, 2012

In our Days in our Ways

This is the 2nd part of a powerful quote taken from Scott McKnight’s book, “The Blue Parakeet.”

Yes, Paul was a chameleon – he changed color everywhere he went – but he kept the same body. His gospel mission shaped everything he did. His gospel was the same, but his circumstances shaped how he went about his business of spreading the gospel. Paul’s process was messy to outsiders but Spirit-led to insiders.

Some are a bit taken back by Paul, but reading the Bible as Story makes me think Paul is doing nothing new here. Adaptability of message and lifestyle is a them written into the fabric of the ongoing development of the Bible itself. God spoke in:
Abraham’s days in Abraham’s ways (walking between severed animals)
Moses’ days in Moses’ ways (law and ceremony)
David’s days in David’s ways (royal policies)
Isaiah’s days in Isaiah’s ways (walking around nude for a few years)
Ezra’s days in Ezra’s ways (divorcing Gentile spouses)
Jesus’ days in Jesus’ ways (intentional poverty)
Peter’s days in Peter’s ways (strategies for living under an emperor)
John’s days in John’s ways (dualistic language – light and darkness)

Adaptability and development are woven into the very fabric of the Bible. From beginning to end there is a pattern of adopting and adapting. It is the attempt to foist one person’s days and ways on everyone’s days and ways that quenches the Holy Spirit. Can we be biblical if we fail to be as adaptable as the Bible itself was – only for our world? Is this messy? Sometimes it is. Was the Jerusalem council messy? Yes, it was. Did they discern what to do for that time? Yes, they did. Was it permanent, for all time, for everyone, always, everywhere? No.

All genuine biblical faith takes the gospel message and “incarnates” it in a context. So, we lay down this observation that unmasks all that we are advocating:
What is good for Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Ezra, Jesus, Peter and Paul is also good for us. But, the precise expression of the gospel or the manner of living of Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Ezra, Jesus, Peter and Paul may not be our expression or our manner of living. Living out the Bible means living out the Bible inour day in our way of discerning together how God would have us live.

We are called to learn the Plot and the Story, to listen to God, and to discern what to say and how to live in our day in our way. We will speak to our world only when we unleash the gospel so that it can speak in our day in our ways. But we are called to be faithful, and we do this by [staying within the grand story of Scripture] – by reading the Bible and knowing the Bible and living out its story in our world today.

What this book is advocating is not new. It is my belief that most Christians and churches do operate with a pattern of discernment, but it is rarely openly admitted and even more rarely clarified. Discernment, I am arguing, is how we have always read the Bible; in fact, it is how the biblical authors themselves read th Bible they had! I want to being a conversation among Bible readers about this very topic: What pattern of discernment is at work among us?

Sunday, April 1, 2012


Below is a powerful quote from Scot McKnight’s book, “The Blue Parakeet.”

Those who read the Bible through tradition always see the traditional way of reading the Bible. This approach is nearly incapable of renewal and adaption.

What do we mean then by traditionalism? There are about six steps in this approach, and it occurs in every church and denomination I’ve been around. Rest assured, traditionalism occurs everywhere. You might way it’s human nature. Here are the six steps, leading to traditionalism:
Step 1: We read the Bible
Step 2: We confront a current issue and we make a decision about an issue – like baptizing infants or adults – or we frame ‘what we believe’ into a confession, a creed, or a doctrinal statement.
Step 3: We fossilize our decision and it becomes a tradition. (Somewhere around here we become absolutely convinced our tradition is a perfect interpretation of the Bible.)
Step 4: We are bound to our tradition forever.
Step 5: We are bound to read the Bible through our tradition. (Somewhere around here we become convinced that God’s Spirit led us to our tradition and that it is nothing less than an accurate God-prompted, don’t-question-it unfolding in history of what God’s Word says.)
Step 6: Those who question our tradition are suspect or, worse yet, kicked out of our church. (Somewhere around here we become ineffective in our world and become increasingly cantankerous about how the youth are wandering away from the faith.)

The Bible itself points us away from traditionalism. The biblical authors and the early fathers didn’t fossilize traditions. Instead – and here we come to a major moment in this book – they went back to the Bible so they could come forward into the present. They did not go back to stay there (the “retrieve-it-all” tendency); they didn’t dismiss the Bible easily (the “retrieve-only-the-essense” approach); and they didn’t fossilize their discernments (traditionalism). Instead, each one went back to the Bible, to God’s Word, so they could come forward into their own day in their own ways. This explains the variety of expressions from Genesis to Revelation; it alone explains how Peter and Paul could preach and preach and hardlgy quote a word of Jesus. It wasn’t because they didn’t know the words of Jesus. No, it was because they knew them so well they could renew Jesus’ message in their day in their own ways- as God’s Spirit prompted them.

I believe it is important to live within the Great Tradition and to interpret the Bible alongside that Great Tradition, but I also believe it has become nearly impossible for fossilization and traditionalism not to creep in. Is there a third way, a way that both returns to retrieve and also respects the Great Tradition? I believe there is, and it is the way of ongoing and constant renewal that returns, retrieves, and renews by reading the Bible with the Great Tradition.