Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Rubel Shelley's Fax of Life

I subscribe to a number of online resources and found this week's Fax of Life in my inbox this morning. I can relate to Rubel Shelley's thoughts on 'busyness' and spiritual formation, and think they are worth sharing...
Subject: The Gift of Stillness
Date: For the Week of March 27, 2006

God is present everywhere and participates in all the circumstances of our lives. It is not necessary to shut down the rest of your life or retreat to a distant mountain top to be with him. Driving down the highway, in hospital waiting rooms, at dinner, greeting clients – God's presence fills every moment of the day.

The experience we call "spiritual formation" is essentially nothing more nor less than learning to be sensitive to the divine presence. We can't fix ourselves. We can't find our own way. We certainly can't control life's twists and turns. But we can gradually learn to sense God's presence with us in all things. His love. And his peace. But I confess to having a problem doing it.

As I've tried to figure out why I have the problem, at least this much is clear: I am more comfortable with noise than silence, activity than stillness, struggling than surrender, trying to be strong than admitting my weakness.

It was the French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal who said, "All human miseries come from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone." Could he possibly be right? Do we humans need more reflection than we permit ourselves? Time to take our thoughts and feelings seriously? The courage to bring them honestly before God to see what he may want us to learn? To be?

Last week I was forced to sit still in weather-bound traffic for a while. For Type-A personalities, that is nerve-jangling, finger-drumming time! I had a schedule. There were things to do. So . . . something told me to pray instead of churn. And I did – about a host of things. The time passed quickly. When I was able to get going on the road again, there was no haste or panic. Just gratitude for an unanticipated time for prayer. And a sense of peace about what lay ahead.

Maybe Pascal was right. And perhaps it would be wise to book a half day each month for silence before God. To use dead time in airports to be alone with God. To turn off the noise of a radio for the chance to hear God while driving to work. It would likely do wonders to focus our lives on being over doing. The meaning of life above its routines. The positives more than the negatives.

Perhaps you live at such a hurried pace that a half day or even a half hour of silence with God seems impractical. For today, put just five minutes of silence between appointments or work two five-minute periods of quiet into your morning.

At the end of the day, you may have discovered the meaning of this text from Scripture: "Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10).

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Congratulations Charme

ACU will be honoring Charme Robarts tomorrow afternoon at a reception at Skillman as one of its Distinguished Alumni. ACU’s Distinguished Alumni Citation recognizes distinctive personal or professional achievement that has merited the honor and praise of peers and colleagues. This year 12 ACU Distinguished Alumni have been chosen as part of ACU’s Centennial Celebration. We are blessed at Skillman to have 2 of the 12 recipients in our midst. Doc Cornutt will be honored in a similar fashion on May 21. I will have more to say about Doc in a future post.

I don't think we realize how blessed we are to have Charme as a part of our family. She is a gifted speaker and writer, an excellent teacher, and a spiritual mentor to many. She speaks frequently at lectureships and workshops across the country and writes articles for Wineskins and Leaven magazines. She participates annually in a medical mission trip to Zambia, and serves on the boards of several mission/outreach focused organizations.

Charme's talents are probably better recognized and possibly better appreciated around the country and in Africa than they are here at Skillman. Partly because we tend to take for granted that which is familiar. Partly because she does not overtly draw attention to herself. And partly because she is gifted in areas that we have traditionally valued more in men. (Another topic for another time)

For now, I want to express my admiration and appreciation to Charme. I have grown on this journey towards spiritual formation in the 5 years that you and Dwight have been with us at Skillman, and you have helped to nurture that growth. Your recognition by ACU is well-deserved. Congratulations!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Best Laid Plans...

Quite a night for college basketball. LSU outdukes Duke. Memphis overpowers Bradley. Texas gets the last shot against West Virginia and scores the winning points as time expires. Gonzaga fails to protect a big lead and misses a last chance shot as time expires. The top 2 scorers in college basketball this year missed shot after shot as the clock ticked down on their careers. 4 teams' seasons continue for at least one more game. 4 teams' seasons end in a way different from what they planned.

I'm reminded of a line from the movie The Natural. Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) is talking with his childhood sweetheart Iris (Glenn Close) when they meet again years after their last time together. Knowing what his dreams had been, she asks, "What happened?" His response, "My life didn't turn out how I had planned." I would imagine that Joseph could have said the same thing when he ended up in Egypt.

Life doesn't always turn out like we plan, but how we respond to life's surprises speaks loudly about who (and whose) we are.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Love Thy Neighbor?

We have lived in our current house for more than 15 years. During that time we have tried to be decent neighbors - not too loud, keep the yard neat, chat on the sidewalk when we happen to see each other, even mowed one neighbor's yard several times one summer when her leg was in a cast. We have attended several of the annual block parties. But for the most part we have kept to ourselves - not unfriendly, just preoccupied with our own busy lives.

Over the past year or so we have made an intentional effort to actually get to know the people in our neighborhood. For the past few years I have thought about Skillman reaching out to and getting involved with the local community, but I was not doing that in my own neighborhood. It is hard to love your neighbors when you don't make any effort to really acknowledge their existence.

One of the families on our street has taken the initiative to organize monthly meetings to plan activities, share neighborhood news, and just spend some time getting to know one another. We have made it a point to attend these meetings when we can and to participate in the planned activities - a multicultural dinner, a New Year's Brunch, etc.

On St. Patrick's Day we hosted a neighborhood party with about 18 of our neighbors. I'm embarrassed to say that it was the first time any of them had spent any time in our home - some had been inside the front door or sat on our porch, but none had been in our home for a meal or any other extended time. It was an enjoyable time of food and fellowship. And we will not let another 15 years pass before we have our neighbors in our home.

We spent a little time talking about the story of St. Patrick. Barbara pointed out that when Patrick returned to Ireland as a missionary he embraced the Irish culture and symbolism to allow Christianity to speak to the Irish in a way that was relevant to them. Not a bad lesson for us today.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Body Broken - Ch 7

In the last chapter of The Body Broken Jack Reese talks about the consequences of fear. Fear paralyzes; fear fragments; fear causes us to lash out; fear creates distrust; fear causes us to retreat into a protective shell.

Seeing others as I wish to be seen is critical to overcoming fear. If I recognize my own brokenness and need for grace then I can see others not as a threat but as broken and in need of grace. I am a member of a community of brokenness and it becomes my task to extend grace and peace to the other members of the community. He compares the church to a hospital and points out that we are all patients in need of healing.

He discusses three attitudes that promote peacemaking. The first is a commitment to confession. Frankly I'm afraid to confess to you some of the sin in my life because I don't want you to think less of me. If I can learn to acknowledge my own brokenness, and expect you to see me as broken, then I don't have to fear your reaction to my confession. We can mutually confess to one another that we are sinners. We also confess that God is God and we are not.

A second attitude that promotes peacemaking is a comittment to repentence. He quotes Frederick Buechner as saying "To repent is to come to your senses. It is not so much something you do as something that happens. True repentence spends less time looking at the past and saying, 'I'm Sorry,' than to the future and saying, 'Wow!'" Repentence involves at least two deeper meanings than a simple "I'm Sorry" - a true sense of remorse and new sense of relationship that results is a new way of acting.

A third attitude that promotes peacemaking is the decision to live "As If". We treat others "as if" they are forgiven, "as if" they are deserving of mercy, "as if" they treat us with forgiveness and mercy. We no longer view others as hurtful or destructive, but "as if" they treat us with kindness. I think another way of stating it is we intentionally try to see others with the eyes of Jesus.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Epistemological Humility

It was good having Randy Harris at Skillman today. I first met Randy nearly 30 years ago when we were both freshmen in Honors Speech with Jack Ryan at Harding. Obviously he took to it better than I did. Can it be possible that it has been 30 years? I must have been a really young freshman...

I thought he did a terrific job of articulating prinicples for disagreeing without devolving into warfare. I would not disagree with any of the 12 principles he described, but I found some to be of particular value.

  1. That we must be willing to be united in spite of our lack of uniformity;
  2. The concept of concentric circles with the cross at the center and beliefs of decreasing importance on the outer rings;
  3. Epistemological Humility - the willingness to accept that I just might be wrong;
  4. Contextual Faithfulness - both in terms of interpreting scripture and in applying it to specific contexts. I think it will be vital to accurately recognize our context as we discover together over the next few months what it means to be a missional church in this community.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Bono Speaks

I read in the paper this morning that rock star Bono will be speaking in May at Fair Park. Earlier this year he delivered a powerful message as the speaker at the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. A bit of a long read, but worth the time...

If you're wondering what I'm doing here, at a prayer breakfast, well, so am I. I'm certainly not here as a man of the cloth, unless that cloth is leather. It's certainly not because I'm a rock star. Which leaves one possible explanation: I'm here because I've got a messianic complex.

Yes, it's true. And for anyone who knows me, it's hardly a revelation.

Well, I'm the first to admit that there's something unnatural...something unseemly...about rock stars mounting the pulpit and preaching at presidents, and then disappearing to their villas in the south of France. Talk about a fish out of water. It was weird enough when Jesse Helms showed up at a U2 concert...but this is really weird, isn't it?

You know, one of the things I love about this country is its separation of church and state. Although I have to say: in inviting me here, both church and state have been separated from something else completely: their mind.

Mr. President, are you sure about this?

It's very humbling and I will try to keep my homily brief. But be warned - I'm Irish.I'd like to talk about the laws of man, here in this city where those laws are written. And I'd like to talk about higher laws. It would be great to assume that the one serves the other; that the laws of man serve these higher laws...but of course, they don't always. And I presume that, in a sense, is why you're here.

I presume the reason for this gathering is that all of us here - Muslims, Jews, Christians - all are searching our souls for how to better serve our family, our community, our nation, our God.

I know I am. Searching, I mean. And that, I suppose, is what led me here, too.

Yes, it's odd, having a rock star here - but maybe it's odder for me than for you.

You see, I avoided religious people most of my life. Maybe it had something to do with having a father who was Protestant and a mother who was Catholic in a country where the line between the two was, quite literally, a battle line. Where the line between church and state was...well, a little blurry, and hard to see.

I remember how my mother would bring us to chapel on Sundays... and my father used to wait outside. One of the things that I picked up from my father and my mother was the sense that religion often gets in the way of God.

For me, at least, it got in the way. Seeing what religious people, in the name of God, did to my native land...and in this country, seeing God's second-hand car salesmen on the cable TV channels, offering indulgences for cash...in fact, all over the world, seeing the self-righteousness roll down like a mighty stream from certain corners of the religious establishment...

I must confess, I changed the channel. I wanted my MTV.

Even though I was a believer.Perhaps because I was a believer.

I was cynical...not about God, but about God's politics. (There you are, Jim [speaking to Jim Wallis of Sojourners Magazine])

Then, in 1997, a couple of eccentric, septuagenarian British Christians went and ruined my shtick - my reproachfulness. They did it by describing the millennium, the year 2000, as a Jubilee year, as an opportunity to cancel the chronic debts of the world's poorest people. They had the audacity to renew the Lord's call - and were joined by Pope John Paul II, who, from an Irish half-Catholic's point of view, may have had a more direct line to the Almighty.

'Jubilee' - why 'Jubilee'?

What was this year of Jubilee, this year of our Lord's favor?

I'd always read the scriptures, even the obscure stuff. There it was in Leviticus (25:35)...'If your brother becomes poor,' the scriptures say, 'and cannot maintain himself...you shall maintain him.... You shall not lend him your money at interest, not give him your food for profit.'

It is such an important idea, Jubilee, that Jesus begins his ministry with this. Jesus is a young man, he's met with the rabbis, impressed everyone, people are talking. The elders say, he's a clever guy, this Jesus, but he hasn't done much...yet. He hasn't spoken in public before...

When he does, is first words are from Isaiah: 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,' he says, 'because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.' And Jesus proclaims the year of the Lord's favour, the year of Jubilee (Luke 4:18).

What he was really talking about was an era of grace - and we're still in it.

So fast-forward 2,000 years. That same thought, grace, was made incarnate - in a movement of all kinds of people. It wasn't a bless-me club... it wasn't a holy huddle. These religious guys were willing to get out in the streets, get their boots dirty, wave the placards, follow their convictions with actions...making it really hard for people like me to keep their distance. It was amazing. I almost started to like these church people.

But then my cynicism got another helping hand.

It was what Colin Powell, a five-star general, called the greatest W.M.D. of them all: a tiny little virus called AIDS. And the religious community, in large part, missed it. The ones that didn't miss it could only see it as divine retribution for bad behavior. Even on children...even [though the] fastest growing group of HIV infections were married, faithful women.

Aha, there they go again! I thought to myself judgmentalism is back!

But in truth, I was wrong again. The church was slow but the church got busy on this the leprosy of our age.

Love was on the move.

Mercy was on the move.

God was on the move.

Moving people of all kinds to work with others they had never met, never would have cared to meet...conservative church groups hanging out with spokesmen for the gay community, all singing off the same hymn sheet on AIDS...soccer moms and quarterbacks...hip-hop stars and country stars. This is what happens when God gets on the move: crazy stuff happens!

Popes were seen wearing sunglasses!

Jesse Helms was seen with a ghetto blaster!

Crazy stuff. Evidence of the spirit.

It was breathtaking. Literally.

It stopped the world in its tracks.

When churches started demonstrating on debt, governments listened - and acted.

When churches starting organizing, petitioning, and even - that most unholy of acts today, God forbid, lobbying...on AIDS and global health, governments listened - and acted.

I'm here today in all humility to say: you changed minds; you changed policy; you changed the world.

Look, whatever thoughts you have about God, who He is or if He exists, most will agree that if there is a God, He has a special place for the poor.

In fact, the poor are where God lives.

Check Judaism. Check Islam. Check pretty much anyone.

I mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill. I hope so. He may well be with us as in all manner of controversial stuff. Maybe, maybe not.

But the one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor.

God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house.

God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives.

God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war.

God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them.

"If you remove the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom with become like midday and the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places."

It's not a coincidence that in the scriptures, poverty is mentioned more than 2,100 times. It's not an accident. That's a lot of air time, 2,100 mentions. (You know, the only time Christ is judgmental is on the subject of the poor.)

'As you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me' (Matthew 25:40).

As I say, good news to the poor.

Here's some good news for the president.

After 9/11 we were told America would have no time for the world's poor. America would be taken up with its own problems of safety. And it's true these are dangerous times, but America has not drawn the blinds and double-locked the doors.

In fact, you have doubled aid to Africa. You have tripled funding for global health. Mr. President, your emergency plan for AIDS relief and support for the Global Fund - you and Congress - have put 700,000 people onto life-saving anti-retroviral drugs and provided 8 million bed nets to protect children from malaria.

Outstanding human achievements. Counterintuitive. Historic. Be very, very proud.

But here's the bad news. From charity to justice, the good news is yet to come. There is much more to do. There's a gigantic chasm between the scale of the emergency and the scale of the response.

And finally, it's not about charity after all, is it? It's about justice.

Let me repeat that: It's not about charity, it's about justice.

And that's too bad.Because you're good at charity.

Americans, like the Irish, are good at it.We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who can't afford it.

But justice is a higher standard.

Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment.

Sixty-five hundred Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drug store. This is not about charity, this is about justice and equality.

Because there's no way we can look at what's happening in Africa and, if we're honest, conclude that deep down, we really accept that Africans are equal to us. Anywhere else in the world, we wouldn't accept it.

Look at what happened in South East Asia with the tsunami--150,000 lives lost to that misnomer of all misnomers, "mother nature."

In Africa, 150,000 lives are lost every month.A tsunami every month. And it's a completely avoidable catastrophe.

It's annoying but justice and equality are mates. Aren't they? Justice always wants to hang out with equality.

And equality is a real pain.

You know, think of those Jewish sheep-herders going to meet the Pharaoh, mud on their shoes, and the Pharaoh says, "Equal?" A preposterous idea: rich and poor are equal?

And they say, "Yeah, 'equal,' that's what it says here in this book. We're all made in the image of God."

And eventually the Pharaoh says, "OK, I can accept that. I can accept the Jews - but not the blacks."

"Not the women. Not the gays. Not the Irish. No way, man."

So on we go with our journey of equality.

On we go in the pursuit of justice.

We hear that call in the ONE Campaign, a growing movement of more than 2 million Americans...Left and Right together... united in the belief that where you live should no longer determine whether you live.

We hear that call even more powerfully today, as we mourn the loss of Coretta Scott King - mother of a movement for equality, one that changed the world but is only just getting started.

These issues are as alive as they ever were; they just change shape and cross the seas.

Preventing the poorest of the poor from selling their products while we sing the virtues of the free market...that's a justice issue.Holding children to ransom for the debts of their grandparents...that's a justice issue.

Withholding life-saving medicines out of deference to the Office of Patents...that's a justice issue.

And while the law is what we say it is, God is not silent on the subject.

That's why I say there's the law of the land.

And then there is a higher standard.

There's the law of the land, and we can hire experts to write them so they benefit us, so the laws say it's OK to protect our agriculture but it's not OK for African farmers to do the same, to earn a living?

As the laws of man are written, that's what they say.

God will not accept that.

Mine won't, at least. Will yours?

I close this morning on...very...thin...ice.

This is a dangerous idea I've put on the table: my God vs. your God, their God vs. our God...vs. no God.

It is very easy, in these times, to see religion as a force for division rather than unity.

And this is a town - Washington - that knows something of division.

But the reason I am here, and the reason I keep coming back to Washington, is because this is a town that is proving it can come together on behalf of what the scriptures call the least of these.

This is not a Republican idea. It is not a Democratic idea. It is not even, with all due respect, an American idea.

Nor it is unique to any one faith.

'Do to others as you would have them do to you' (Luke 6:30). Jesus says that.

'Righteousness is this: that one should...give away wealth out of love for him to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and the beggars and for the emancipation of the captives.' The Koran says that (2.177).

Thus sayeth the Lord: 'Bring the homeless poor into the house, when you see the naked, cover him, then your light will break out like the dawn and your recovery will speedily spring fourth, then your Lord will be your rear guard.' The Jewish scripture says that. Isaiah 58 again.

That is a powerful incentive: 'The Lord will watch your back.' Sounds like a good deal to me, right now.

A number of years ago, I met a wise man who changed my life.

In countless ways, large and small, I was always seeking the Lord's blessing.

I was saying, you know, I have a new song, look after it.

I have a family, please look after them.

I have this crazy idea...And this wise man said: stop.

He said, stop asking God to bless what you're doing.

Get involved in what God is doing - because it's already blessed.

Well, God, as I said, is with the poor. That, I believe, is what God is doing.

And that is what he's calling us to do.

I was amazed when I first got to this country and I learned how much some churchgoers tithe. Up to 10% of the family budget.

Well, how does that compare with the federal budget, the budget for the entire American family?

How much of that goes to the poorest people in the world?

Less than 1%.

Mr. President, Congress, people of faith, people of America: I want to suggest to you today that you see the flow of effective foreign assistance as tithing.... Which, to be truly meaningful, will mean an additional 1% of the federal budget tithed to the poor.

What is 1%?

1% is not merely a number on a balance sheet.

1% is the girl in Africa who gets to go to school, thanks to you.

1% is the AIDS patient who gets her medicine, thanks to you.

1% is the African entrepreneur who can start a small family business thanks to you.

1% is not redecorating presidential palaces or money flowing down a rat hole.

This 1% is digging waterholes to provide clean water.

1% is a new partnership with Africa, not paternalism toward Africa, where increased assistance flows toward improved governance and initiatives with proven track records and away from boondoggles and white elephants of every description.

America gives less than 1% now.

We're asking for an extra 1% to change the world--to transform millions of lives - but not just that and I say this to the military men now - to transform the way that they see us.

1% is national security, enlightened economic self-interest, and a better, safer world rolled into one.

Sounds to me that in this town of deals and compromises, 1% is the best bargain around.

These goals - clean water for all; school for every child; medicine for the afflicted, an end to extreme and senseless poverty - these are not just any goals; they are the Millennium Development goals, which this country supports.

And they are more than that.

They are the Beatitudes for a globalised world.

Now, I'm very lucky.

I don't have to sit on any budget committees.

And I certainly don't have to sit where you do, Mr. President. I don't have to make the tough choices.

But I can tell you this:To give 1% more is right.

It's smart.

And it's blessed.

There is a continent - Africa - being consumed by flames.

I truly believe that when the history books are written, our age will be remembered for three things: the war on terror, the digital revolution, and what we did - or did not to - to put the fire out in Africa.

History, like God, is watching what we do.

Thank you. Thank you, America, and God bless you all.

Spring Break

Since we didn't go anywhere this week, I took on several small projects around the house. The one that I am most pleased with is my "Harding Swing". For any of you who have ever been on Harding's campus, you will recognize the design although I did decide to leave it the natural wood finish and not paint it white - I think it blends into my back yard better this way.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

March Madness

I love this time of year...one of the true benefits of the education profession is Spring Break. For the past several years Taylor and I have taken a father-son trip. This year we didn't plan one for a couple of reasons. One, we have taken a couple of college visits and plan to take a couple more, but the schools he wants to visit are also on spring break this week. Two, he has been applying for jobs since basketball season ended and we assumed he would be working this week. Wrong...the search continues.

I've been getting used to the idea of blogging and have kind of eased into it by reviewing The Body Broken, but I hope to make this space a little more interactive. I thought I might start by giving my picks for the Final Four and inviting anyone who reads this to do the same. I have UCONN beating Boston College and Duke beating Memphis in the semifinals with UCONN over Duke in the championship game. If anyone reads this and wants to respond just list your teams in order - champion, runner-up, and who they will beat in the semis - like so:

Connecticut, Duke, Boston College, and Memphis

The Body Broken - Ch 6

Spring Break is nearly gone and it has been a week since my last post - I find that while I like change and variety I tend to function more productively in routine. In chapter 6 Jack describes a very fragmented church as illustrated in Paul's letter to the Corinthians. There are several issues dividing the Christians in Corinth - moral issues, legal issues, ego issues, doctrinal issues - that manifest themselves in the Corinthians' observance of the Lord's supper.

He makes the observation that the other churches that Paul wrote to were at odds with the prevailing culture, but that the church in Corinth existed peacefully with and was more or less a reflection of the local community. He states that in the absence of tensions with outsiders the church quarreled among themselves. In many ways the church today often resembles the church in Corinth - a microcosm of the community with an internal focus, energies consumed with debating our differences.

Ironically, the only example in the New Testament of a church participating in the Lord's Supper is an example of how not to in the Corinthian church. Paul chastizes the Corinthians for being self-centered, for being oblivious of one another - the body, for dishonoring the cross. He tells them to wait for one another, to serve one another, to care for one another, to be aware of each other. In doing so, they would embody the cross until Christ comes again.


Last night's discussion in the Rotunda class culminated in a discussion of the significance of the Lord's Supper. As a group we identified a number of actions/attitudes that are aspects of our participation - among those that I can recall:
  • Remembering
  • Thanksgiving
  • Communing
  • Discerning
  • Anticipating
  • Celebrating
  • Eating/Drinking
  • Proclaiming

One concept that struck me as significant in our conversation is the need for balance. One of the problems with the Corinthian church was a focus on eating and drinking while neglecting the communal aspect. I think that we often do the same thing with remembering - we focus so somberly on Jesus' sacrifice on our own behalf that we neglect the communal aspects - discerning the body, celebrating, proclaiming.

Jon Mark Hicks addresses this issue in his book Come to the Table. We have learned to treat the communion table as an altar - focusing on our personal response to the sacrifice - to the near exclusion of the communal feast that celebrates the resurrection. God calls us to His table to feast together with His children - our brothers and sisters - that Jesus died to save.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Body Broken - Ch 5

Getting back to thoughts on Jack Reese's The Body Broken...Chapter 5 starts with a moving description of a man baptizing his sister. Jack relates his own concern with getting the form correct to the unfortunate disconnect between the event of baptism and holy living that is frequently evidenced in the modern church by divisive and fragmenting behavior.

He goes on to a discussion of Paul's letter to the Romans and describes the tension between the Jews and the Gentiles in Rome. He states that the overriding question in the letter to the Romans is whether Jewish and Gentile Christians with their significant differences can be part of the same church. He asks what I believe may be the most profound question facing Skillman and its future - Can Christians who disagree with one another worship together? Can Christians who disagree profoundly with one another be part of the same church?

After describing the issues facing the Roman Church he illustrates with 2 issues within churches of Christ today - acappella singing and the role of women. He does not stake out a position on either of these issues, but says
the greater decisions have to do with how we treat one another. Now Paul's letter to the Romans has a direct bearing on us. Will we despise those with whom we differ? Will we condemn them? ...Will we be relieved when they find a church across town that is filled with people more like them? Can we even talk together? Can we sit down together to pray?

I have to confess that when I feel that I am being attacked or criticized the last thing I want to do is talk together or pray together. I have long held the 12th chapter of Romans as an ideal to live by, but I'm afraid that the life I live is far from ideal.

Dr. Barbara Gray...

Congratulations to my beloved for successfully defending her dissertation this afternoon! I am proud of you.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

I posted last night about the walls that separate us - I thought today's Christian Quotation of the Day was relevant...

Christian Quotation of the Day
March 8, 2006

Quotation: The tremendous power of mass-suggestion, which we call the world, can only be confronted, and its victims cured, if they are received into a body which is filled with a vivid, vigorous, and conscious community life of the Spirit. Individuals are powerless to cope with a power so subtle and all-pervasive as this mass-suggestion is. If we are to save and rescue sinners, there must grow up in our Church a Spirit of Love and Brotherhood, a Christian community-life, transcending class and national distinctions, as pungent, as powerful, as impossible to escape as the Spirit of the world. No Apostolic Succession, no Ecclesiastical correctness, no rigidity of orthodox doctrine, can be themselves and in themselves give us this; it comes, and can only come, from a clearer vision of the Christ, a more complete surrender to His call and to the bearing of His Cross. ... G. A. Studdert Kennedy (1883-1929), The Wicket Gate [1923]

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Body Broken - Ch 4

There has been some discussion in political circles lately about building a wall along the Mexican border. Jack Reese spends some time in chapter 4 talking about walls that have been constructed throughout history. I was struck by his assertion that some walls protect, some walls contain, but all walls divide.

The symbolism of visible walls communicates a desire to be separated for safety, privacy, protection, or privilege. Invisible walls - barriers within human hearts - may not be as overtly symbolic, but they are often more impenetrable. These are the walls that divide races, that divide white collar and blue collar, that divide the North and South, and that divide Christians.

Paul addresses the walls that existed between Jews and Gentiles in the Ephesian church by pointing out that there is one body, one spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God. Reese says that "Being separated from people for whom Christ has died is not living a life worthy of what Christ has done".

I have been contemplating the walls in my heart and I found that today's post in Mike Cope's blog speaks both to the source of some of those walls and the means to tear them down. What walls are in your heart?

Saturday, March 04, 2006

The Body Broken - Ch 3

Continuing reflections on Jack Reese's The Body Broken ...Chapter 3 continues addressing the need to overcome conflict. Reese says "Many conflicts within churches occur not because of serious doctrinal differences but because the views and experiences of some of the members do not allow them to imagine the beliefs and practices of others. We tend to see things from our own point of view, with our own interests at the center, with our own experiences as the norm." (p55)

He begins describing a church that sounds very much like a model church. It "doesn't have many members who view themselves as mere attenders of worship services, hoping to get something good and giving only to what they like. Instead, they see themselves as partners with one another for the gospel's sake."(p57) As the description continues conflict creeps into the picture. He talks about some disagreement that has arisen between two "old warriors who have been a part of the vision and life of the church". In my male-centric mind I envision two strong-willed gray haired men until he mentions that they are women. It soon becomes clear that he is talking about Euodia and Syntyche and the Philippian church.

He continues by paraphrasing Paul's letter to the Philippian church, a pattern he follows in the next few chapters with the letters to the Ephesians, the Romans, and the Corinthians. I find throughout the book that his paraphrasing and setting of the context for these letters causes me to think about them in ways I had not previously. In each case he describes the existence of some difference in race, social status, or opinion. The difference has become a source of conflict and Paul has to remind his audience how to behave towards one another - in this case with humility. Do not think so highly of myself, and do think more highly of others.

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One of the comments Jack made the other evening was that we need to get out more, that the narrowness of the range of our experiences restricts our capacity to understand the views of and to trust the motives of others who are not just like us. I find this to be true on multiple levels - within the context of the local church, between churches, and between church and community. I mentioned Larry James in my initial post. One of the reasons I admire Larry is that he forces me to either broaden my range of experience or to stick my head in the sand and ignore the challenges faced by the poor and disenfranchised. While it is frequently not comfortable for me to become involved with people in circumstances different from my own, I am convicted by Jesus' words that "As you have done to the least of these..."

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Body Broken - Ch 2

Continuing thoughts on Jack Reese's The Body Broken...

We were privileged to have Jack visit with us last night. One thread that ran throughout his comments was the imperative to avoid being divided by disagreement and diversity.

This theme appears throughout the book as well, including the second chapter. The discussion of reasons why many of our younger generation walk away from Churches of Christ convicts us of our behavior towards one another. He says "If you want to know what I think about Jesus, then look at how I treat others."

He mentions in this chapter and emphasized in his comments the need to talk with each other - especially when we disagree - and to listen. I often preconceive what you think or believe, or what your motives are, sometimes based on prior experience, but more often by stereotype or reputation. And while I know that my motives are pure, I'm pretty sure that you have some ulterior motive or hidden agenda.

In all of our behavior and conversation with each other unity should be an overriding concern. Unity is what Jesus prayed for; unity is our being reconciled both with God and with one another. How can I be united with God if I am not willing to be united with those He loves and has brought into relationship with Himself? Unity exists in the midst of disagreement; unity is not optional and it is not the end product of the resolution of differences.

Back to the book...at the end of chapter 2 he tells the story of a friend who had visited church one Wednesday night when two men with divergent views on some issue were very much engaged in a discussion about that issue. When asked about her experience as a visitor, she said "It was great; these two men were debating - I don't have any idea what they were talking about, but I could tell how much they loved each other." My hope for Skillman is that when people see us, they will be able to tell how much we love each other.