Friday, May 20, 2005

Something worth reading...and thinking about...and maybe even doing something about.

"There is just something about denying the call to suburban affluence that seems to a spiritually starved soul to be a good thing to do: Fast from materialism and binge on relationship with the poor."

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A look in the mirror.

Here's a link to an article that is in Harper's Magazine this month. It's a feature by Revealer editor Jeff Sharlet. You may be uncomfortable with some of the cynical tone of the article, but I think that Jeff helps us to understand the way the world is perceiving much of American evangelicalism today.

He called the evil forces that dominated Colorado Springs—and every other metropolitan area in the country—“Control.” Sometimes, he says, Control would call him late on Saturday night, threatening to kill him. “Any more impertinence out of you, Ted Haggard,” he claims Control once told him, “and there will be unrelenting pandemonium in this city.” No kidding! Pastor Ted hadn’t come to Colorado Springs for his health; he had come to wage “spiritual war.” He moved the church to a strip mall. There was a bar, a liquor store, New Life Church, a massage parlor. His congregation spilled out and blocked the other businesses. He set up chairs in the alley. He strung up a banner: SIEGE THIS CITY FOR ME, signed JESUS. He assigned everyone in the church names from the phone book they were to pray for. He sent teams to pray in front of the homes of supposed witches—in one month, ten out of fifteen of his targets put their houses on the market. His congregation “prayer-walked” nearly every street of the city. Population boomed, crime dipped; Pastor Ted believes to this day that New Life helped chase the bad out of town. He thinks like that, a piston: less bad means more good.

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Monday, May 16, 2005

I need a vacation...

...and I'm getting one. For the next three weeks I'll be on vacation. In regards to this blog one of two things will happen. Either I'll post very rarely (I do alot of my posting from work) or I'll post even more (I'll have some extra time to think about post-worthy things). Who knows which way it will go. Either way, I'm on vacation. If you check this blog regularly and there is not much here it will be a great opportunity to explore some of the incredibly wise and thought-provoking blogs on my blogroll (to the right).

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Escaping the squirrel cage.

"The best moments any of us have as human beings are those moments when for a little while it is possible to escape the squirrel-cage of being me into the landscape of being us." - Frederick Buechner

Continuing ideas...

I've been posting about a new monasticism recently. Jordon Cooper directed me to Alan Creech for this, followed up by this.

Also, I've been talking a bit about church from the margins. I came across this quote from Wendell Berry last night that seemed to fit right in with where my thoughts have been going.

"If change is to come, it will come from the margins. It was the desert, not the temple, that gave us the prophets."

Very interesting. It's amazing how when you are thinking about certain ideas that God keeps bringing them back to your mind.

Sidewalk Art

Keep in mind that all of these drawings are on a flat surface. And in the first one there is only one real person. These are pretty amazing!

Wow! That's all I can really say.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

It's God's House, or is it?

I wrote a bit about doing church from the margins here, and I was pushed even further in my thinking by Howard Snyder in a recent article in Christianity Today called God's Housing Crisis. He writes...

Interestingly, church history shows an inverse ratio between dynamic church multiplication and preoccupation with buildings. Emphasis on buildings is generally linked with relatively slow growth or even decline.
I find that fascinating. I write this as we are undergoing a $300,000 renovation of our own church building. There's a lot we could do with that money. But I do realize that our building is a gift from God and a tool to be used for His Kingdom. Nevertheless, Snyder gives the church some valuable wisdom in his article.

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The New Monasticism

There's been alot of talk in the emerging "Blogosphere" lately about a new monasticism. The discussions have centered around doing church as a community instead of as a meeting or a worship service. There is a discontent (for very good reasons) with the way we currently "church" and a desire to move towards a model of sharing life with other believers -- realizing that this "life-sharing" is church. It's not a seclusion from the world, but a modeling of the kingdom of God as a community within the world. Engaging the world not as individuals but as a community of faith.

Anyway, the idea intrigues and excites me. So I thought I'd throw out some links to get the two people who actually read this blog into the conversation.

Tall Skinny Kiwi has an abundance of links here and Will Samson offers some here as well.

Or you can check out the New Monasticism site, or an article from a Vineyard Newsletter here, or the Northumbria Community here.

Here's one of the most intriguing sites that I've come across thus far.

That should get you started. If you find more sights of interest put them in the comments section.

Struggle and Progress

From Ron Sider's EPistle

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are [women and] men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.” - Frederick Douglass (in 1857)

I know it's true, but I don't have to like it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

What do you want on your tombstone?

And I'm not talking about a pizza!

Make your own here.

Seeking a Theocracy

In this Blog from Chrisitianity Today I found a quote that was quite interesting.

Evangelicalism, however, has always been a reform movement. And there is always more to reform. The Kingdom of God has arrived, but is not yet here. And we won't be satisfied until the king comes in all his glory. And that's evangelical Christianity's little secret right now. We really are theocrats. Only in exactly the opposite way from how some op-ed columnists think we are. Our hopes lie far beyond the next election, or the next judicial fight. Our king isn't elected, and our judge isn't appointed. Sometimes we forget that. But it's what we're all about.

There is alot of stuggle in the US over the idea of Christians seeking to establish a theocracy - a government led by God. I myself have been worried about the state of the Church in the US that feels that political support for our positions is of extreme importance. We need to be careful linking politics with faith. It can often lead to the politics influencing the faith more than the other way around. (See here if you want an example.) I am not saying that we have no role to play in the political process. I am encouraging one of my friends here in Canada as he runs to be a member of the BC Legislative Assembly. I am just saying that Jesus is the leader of the church. He is the one who we must follow. He is the only one that merits our allegiance. It just seems that if the political system was the way to change the hearts of men and women that we might see a bit more of that in His teachings.

In reality, the church tends to function better when it is at the margins of society rather than in the center of society. When life is tough we see clearly what is important and are better able to put feet and hands to following Jesus. Len at Next Reformation writes

In fact, it is only when we are marginalized that we do theology, because the old theologies no longer make sense. A theology of hegemony, when the church is at the center, will not be useful when we are now on the fringes.

Although church on the margins of society doesn't sound very easy, there is something that appeals to me about being free to follow Jesus and letting that shape society instead of spending all my time seeking to shape society. That's what I think Ted Olsen means when he says -

We really are theocrats. Only in exactly the opposite way from how some op-ed columnists think we are. Our hopes lie far beyond the next election, or the next judicial fight. Our king isn't elected, and our judge isn't appointed. Sometimes we forget that. But it's what we're all about.

I'm 85% linker and 15% thinker.

Rudy points us to an article in Forbes magazine about blogging. It clarified to me why I blog the way I blog. The article states...

Former blogger Steven den Beste made the distinction between “thinkers,” who post primarily their own thoughts, and “linkers,” who mostly direct readers to other sources. If thinkers are sources, linkers are what journalists call “editors.” Readers gravitate to these sites for the same reason people have favorite magazines–because they share the editor’s interests, sensibility and point of view. That’s how Glenn Reynolds, a little-known University of Tennessee law professor, turned into a destination with more than 100,000 visitors a day.

No doubt about it, I'm predominantly a "linker" who throws in an ocassional "think".

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Free the Dalit...

I've gotten an education lately, thanks to a great album from Caedmon's Call called Share the Well. The album is about the only thing that I've listened to for the past month. And through the songs and liner notes I've learned about the Dalit people of India. They are the people that are below even the lowest caste in India. The untouchables.

Beneath the four main castes is a fifth group, the Scheduled Caste. They literally have no caste. They are the untouchables, the Dalits, which means oppressed, downtrodden and exploited social group.

A Dalit is not considered to be part of the human society, but something which is beyond that. The Dalits perform the most menial and degrading jobs. Sometimes Dalits perform important jobs, but this is mostly not socially recognized. Dalits are seen as polluting for higher caste people. If a higher caste Hindu is touched by an untouchable or even had a Dalit's shadow across them, they consider themselves to be polluted and have to go through a rigorous series of rituals to be cleansed.

In India there are approximately 250 million Dalits. This means that 25% of the population is Dalit. It also means that in a country, where everybody is supposed to have equal rights and opportunities, 1 out of 4 persons is condemned to be untouchable. (From the Dalit Freedom Network)

It's impossible for me to tell you all that I'm learning. But I think that it's stuff that more people need to know. So I encourage you to check out Share the Well and The Dalit Freedom Network. You should probably start out with this. But let me warn you, you're going to meet some people here that Jesus wants to love through you. It might even cost you something.

My Brother-In-Law is Blogging!!!

It's great when you actually like your brother-in-law. Even greater when he starts his own blog. You need to check out Running with Scissors. Reid has a very ecclectic personality. I'm looking forward to following his contributions to the blogosphere.


The Mark

The new issue of Christian Counter Culture is now online. It's worth taking a look at.


"A cement of unity"

A quote from Jean Vanier, via Bruderhof...

We who are rich are often demanding and difficult. We shut ourselves up in our apartments and may even use a watchdog to defend our property. Poor people, of course, have nothing to defend and often share the little they have.

When people have all the material things they need, they seem not to need each other. They are self-sufficient. There is no interdependence. There is no love. In a poor community, however, there is often a lot of mutual help and sharing of goods, as well as help from outside. Poverty can even become a cement of unity.

But what about Him?

Last Sunday I preached on John 21. Jesus asks Peter 3 times "Do you love me?". One of the ideas that stood out to me from the text was the fact that Peter, who normally loved to be the center of attention, shifted the focus to John when Jesus' words got a little hard to handle. I called it "the art of spiritual deflection". Often when we feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit we rush to look at the life of someone else. "What about him?" But as I have chewed on this idea I have been confronted with another question. What role do we play in the lives of others? I have been wondering specifically what role that Christians need to play in keeping society "moral". Is our emphasis on keeping society in line a form of spiritual deflection? As is often the case, God has given me food for thought regarding this very issue. It came from Ron Sider's E-Pistle. The article is so good that I've copied the entire text below.

TO LOVE OR TO CONDEMN: What should Christians do when our countrymen violate biblical principles? by George Ellis

Society is estranged from our God. Entertainment is more violent and vulgar than ever and explicit pornography downloads easily from the Internet. Homosexuals battle for the right to marry and abortions are a commodity. It’s no wonder evangelicals want to take action. Some respond with “righteous indignation” in defense of God under attack. Many are fearful, seeing a falling society pulling us and our children down with it. How should we react?

While modern technology allows unique forms of sin, man’s heart has always been separated from God. Evil was also rampant during New Testament times. Jesus called his contemporaries “wicked” and “adulterous” (Mark 8.29). Infanticide, the ancient practice of leaving unwanted newborns outside to die, is cruel beyond our imagination. During the first centuries of Christianity, Rome dragged many believers to painful and humiliating deaths.

How did Jesus and the early church deal with the societies in which they lived? First, Jesus condemned sin. The New Testament overflows with demands on believers to live clean lives. Jesus required higher morals than even the Jewish law: the Old Testament forbade the acts of adultery and murder; Jesus forbade called it a sin simply to desire such things (cf. Matt.5:22,27).

But Jesus presents a paradox when he opposes religious leaders and befriends prostitutes and tax-gathering thugs. He prefers open sin to the hypocrisy and pride of the Pharisees when he says, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Matt. 9:12). Paul repeatedly instructs the church about godly behaviour (see 2 Cor. 2:21, Eph. 4:31, Col. 3:8, 1 Tim.2:8), while remaining quiet about reforming the actions of those outside. On the whole, the New Testament instructs believers to concern themselves with their own behavior and, to a lesser extent, with that of other believers.

In addition, there are specific commands against trying to change the behavior of others. Jesus condemned this practice in the Pharisees (Matthew 7:1). Paul writes an explicit reproof in I Corinthians 5:12: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?”

Some read the scriptures differently, saying, for example, that we become “salt and light” by compelling unbelievers to good behavior. Jesus gave such a command, but he seems to have meant something quite different: “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).

The proper reaction of believers to evil around us is to mind OUR behaviour — that God might be glorified. This idea is repeated in I Peter 2:12:
“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

The Pharisees were the best-behaved people in Israel, as Paul, a former Pharisee, tells us:
“… If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more:… in regard to the law,[I was] a Pharisee; …as for legalistic righteousness, [I was] faultless” (Phil. 3:4-6).

How did Jesus receive these models of morality? He called them “whitewashed tombs” and "snakes” (Matthew 23).

Some evangelicals use the clearing of the temple in Matthew 21:12 as a model for “righteous anger,” defending the faith against evil. But was that His purpose? The ZONDERVAN LIFE APPLICATION STUDY BIBLE provides context: “Merchants…set up their booths in the court of the Gentiles in the temple, crowding out the Gentiles who had come from all over…. Their commercialism in God’s house frustrated people’s attempts at worship.” Perhaps Jesus is providing travelers the opportunity to worship, a God-given right that merchants were denying. In this sense, Jesus was delivering justice, restoring the gift of God that had been usurped by men.

It is difficult to conclude from the short passage what motivated Jesus that day. However, the incident is unique in His ministry, and his reaction is specifically to a perversion of God’s house. It was a single event over a narrow issue. He never charged us to react that way over similar issues and certainly not over broader issues of sin in our society.

Some evangelicals use Old Testament Law to justify compelling unbelievers to better behavior. While the Old Testament is a treasure for the modern Christian, applying the Law of Moses is difficult because it was written for citizens of theocratic Israel. The New Testament is written for “strangers in the world” (I Peter 2.11) and those whose “citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). The New Testament is not a governing document for those outside the church.

Why did Jesus spend so little time trying to change behavior? Probably because it doesn’t work. Scripture teaches that simply changing behavior cannot please God (Romans 3:28). We are to focus on winning unbelievers to Christ, not correcting their behavior.

Of course, after coming to the Lord, new believers should be instructed to take up Christian disciplines. They ought to obey the scriptures and be compelled to stop gross sin upon threat of expulsion (I Cor. 5).

In some cases there are biblical reasons to hold those outside the church accountable for their offenses. We should oppose the unjust in order to rescue the defenseless. Gary Haugen of International Justice Mission defines “injustice” as the misuse of power “to take from others what God has given them” (see his compelling book, GOOD NEWS ABOUT INJUSTICE, [IVP, 1999]). Haugen points out that Jesus derided the Pharisees for ignoring injustice even as they obeyed the command to tithe in every detail: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices - mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law - justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Matt. 23:23). (See also Psalm 10:17,18 and 72:12-14, and Isaiah 1:17.)

Evangelicals are too rarely recognized for their dedication to justice. How often do we champion the cause of the abused worker, the enslaved third-world child, or the mistreated prisoner? Jesus gave sober advice against neglecting the oppressed and impoverished in Matthew 25:31-46.

Abortion provides us an opportunity to fight injustice. Evangelicals see abortion as a terrible injustice to the unborn and doubtless compassion drives many of us to action. But the world often cannot see it, perhaps because our zeal to protect the unborn doesn’t translate into compassion for the infant. Healthcare, quality pre-school, and decent housing for poor families are issues that evangelicals are often silent about.

Another contradiction is that the church was largely silent when 500,000 Iraqi children died during the embargo of the 1990s, mostly for lack of food and medicine (see Tony Campolo’s SPEAKING MY MIND [W Publishing Group, 2004]). Few of us were vocal about the genocides in Rwanda, Bosnia, and Sudan. Why doesn’t our belief in the sanctity of life move us to action? The confusion bred from our mix of political stands prevents many outside the church from seeing compassion in our anti-abortion activities.

In an informal survey, Philip Yancey found that evangelicals are known by unbelievers mostly for being anti-abortion, anti-homosexual, and “anti” other sins (see Yancey’s WHAT’S SO AMAZING ABOUT GRACE [Zondervan, 1997]). Few people described evangelicals to him in terms of love, grace or anything positive. We’ve strayed from the model of the early church where Christians, poor as they were, were known among unbelievers for taking care of each other and of strangers (see Bruce Shelly’s HISTORY OF THE CHURCH IN PLAIN LANGUAGE [Thomas Nelson, 1995]). They won unbelievers from a society much more hostile than our own to the message of Jesus. Imagine the power of the Gospel if we were known for acts of mercy and compassion rather than for trying to stamp out sin.

Food for thought, eh?