Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Worth and Dignity

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Downtown Monroe, Michigan
Back in the late 70s I worked for one year and three summers at United Cerebral Palsy Center of Will County, Illinois. I was a teacher's assistant. A helper. There, I earned a B.A. I was a Bathroom Assistant. I took boys and men who could not toilet themselves into the bathroom, and assisted them.

I brought my guitar into the classes, and played and sang for the students. I carried out tasks given me by the teacher, Mrs. Gulick. I drove the Center's station wagon, picking up kids early in the morning for school, dropping them off after school was over. 

One of the students was an autistic girl named Gail. We had to tie Helen's shoes in double knots, and fasten her clothing top and pants together with safety pins. Because, untied and unpinned, Gail would begin to take everything off, and throw it, with force! 

One day, driving through the northern Illinois countryside with Gail in the back seat of the station wagon, I was shocked when one of her tennis shoes whizzed by my right ear, slamming into the front window of the car. Gail had gotten her shoe off!

I remember David, a young man who was an idiot savant. David was mentally handicapped, but displayed brilliance and genius when it came to birthdays. David could instantly tell you what your birth date was, and what day of the week  your birthday will fall on in 2050, or 2051, or you-pick-the-year. 

Helen was a charming, beautiful, physically handicapped young woman who was intelligent and caring. She could not talk, and communicated through wearing a pointer strapped to her head, with which she touched letters on a small table attached to her wheelchair. One of my privileges was to feed Helen. I had to insert the food, using my fingers, into Helen's mouth, positioning it between her molars. She always smiled when I fed her. Helen was grace-filled and other-centered.

I remember James, whose legs were inoperative and atrophied, but whose biceps were huge. James could do push ups from a sitting position, skinny legs extended. I remember Jimmy, a Down's Syndrome boy. I loved his smile, and wrote a song about him, which I sang for Jimmy at our Annual Graduation Ceremony.

I learned so much from my time there. I saw human dignity on display, exemplified in the staff, the teachers, and the students.

Every person has worth. And dignity. Why?

The worth of a person cannot be in how they look, because a few of our students were disfigured. A person's worth cannot be in their accomplishments, since some of our students accomplished nothing. The worth of a person cannot be in their possessions, since many of our students not only had little, but could not comprehend how impoverished they were.

How, then, are we to understand the worth and dignity of persons? It can't be found in atheism. (See atheist Steven Pinker's essay "The Stupidity of Dignity.")

It can be found in Judeo-Christianity. Beginning in the beginning:

So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:26

This imago dei is core humanity. It resides deep in us, and is unresponsive to our successes and strengths, our failures and infirmities, our wealth or poverty.

(For deep reading on human worth and dignity, see the 555-page report from the President's Council on Bioethics, Human Dignity and Bioethics.)

Pride: A Checklist

Linda and me, with Payne Theological Seminary friends

God is opposed to the proud,
but gives grace to the humble.

James 4:6

Those are strong words! In areas of pride, God is against us. Pride in us hinders others from experiencing God's love, mercy, and grace.

C.S. Lewis once wrote that the true Christian's nostrils must be constantly attuned to the inner cesspool. That cesspool includes pride. 

Do I, do you, have ungodly pride in your heart? Michael Brown, in Revolution in the Church: Challenging the Religious System with a Call for Radical Change, provides a checklist of potential evidences of pride. If you have a pointy finger, aim it at yourself as you read these. If the shoe fits, confess and turn from the prideful attitude.

  • You are accountable to no one. 
  • You think you are “the one”—that your church, your ministry, your anointing or your teaching is the necessary ingredient for true revival or evangelism or growth. 
  • Your opinion is always more important than the opinion of others. 
  • You are able to find sin in the lives of others but not in your own. 
  • You are quarrelsome. 
  • You find it difficult to be a team player. 
  • You are always right about everything. 
  • You are slow to repent. 
  • You find it difficult to say, “I’m sorry,” without defending yourself or blaming others. 
  • You refuse to take help. 
  • You are unteachable. 
  • You are unable to recognize others’ accomplishments or rejoice in their successes. 
  • You are unable to say, “I’m hurting; I’m in trouble.” 
  • You never reverse your path when wrong, but make only minor adjustments. 
  • You always think, “This message is for someone else, not me.” 
  • You fail to realize when God is trying to get your attention, when He is correcting you, when He is judging you.

My Two Books (and Three More to Come)

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My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God (May 2016)

Leading the Presence-Driven Church (January 2018)

I am now writing:

How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Linda and I plan to co-write our book on Relationships

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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

"Relevant" - The Great Nonsense Word of Our Time


This is what the Lord says:
“Stand at the crossroads and look;

    ask for the ancient paths,

ask where the good way is, and walk in it,

    and you will find rest for your souls.

    But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’

- Jeremiah 6:6
A church that spends time and resources trying to be "relevant" has chosen the wrong path. "Relevant" is the wrong word to describe Jesus. Better to call him the Way, or the Truth, or the Life. Jesus is someone far higher, and deeper, than the spatially and temporally localized word "relevant." To call him such is to choose the wrong path.

"Relevant" is hip nonsense. See, for example, this essay in The Smithsonian: "What Does It Mean for Art to Be "Relevant"?

Art must be great. To be great often means being irrelevant. Relevancy is irrelevant to the great artist, who creates because he must, not because he's trying to fit in. 

In the Smithsonian interview music critic Jay Nordliner says:

"That’s the buzzword of the day, “relevant.” I think it’s one of the great nonsense words of our time. What does it mean? The Bach B Minor Mass is great. Is it relevant? I don’t know. It’s great. Is greatness relevant? Relevant to what? I think art can be liked and loved and appreciated. It instructs us and consoles us and thrills us and lifts us up. But this mania, this fashion, this fad for relevance is bizarre. 
It’s a perversion of art. I think it goes hand in hand with attempts to politicize art. A lot of people think that if something isn’t political, it doesn’t really matter. I suppose that’s what they mean by “relevant.” What’s the relevance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony? Brotherhood? Well, that symphony is a lot more than that – beyond our power to put into words."

The great artist is not trying to speak for today. "The best art speaks for all time and is timeless. It's beyond time and place." 

Jesus, and the Church, are more like great art than great science. That's why Jesus, and the Real Church, will be triumphant. Science is amazing, but Real Church is beyond our power to put into words, and cannot be captured in the steel nets of literal language. Being beyond time and place, it cannot be diminished to time and place. This is why Jesus spoke in parables, with some syllogisms thrown in. (See Chapter 9 in my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church, on the metaphysical impulse that will not go away, and my writing on non-discursiveness.)

Pouring time, energy, and money into striving to make the Church "relevant" is the politicization of the Church. That is, it tends towards the politically correct as a justification for attracting people. It is reductionistic, desacralizing, and disenchanting. It leads people away from the ancient paths. It's a perversion of Church. It is idolatry.

Greatness, when it arrives on the scene, is usually misunderstood, and felt as culturally irrelevant and out of place. Like Jesus. Like his people.

How, then, shall we tap into the greatness of God and his Church? Lay relevancy down by the rivers of Babylon, and be faithful.

(Note: I see being "incarnational" as different, and more powerful, than being "relevant.")

Monday, August 13, 2018

Refusing to Take Reality for Granted

Blood Moon
CNN posted this photo I took of a blood moon - HERE.
The existentialist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir "had a kind of genius for being amazed by the world and by herself; all her life she remained a virtuoso marveller at things. As she said in her memoirs, this was the origin of fiction-writing: it began at those times when ‘reality should no longer be taken for granted’." (Sarah Bakewell, At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails with Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Others, p. 109)

A virtuoso marveller at things.

For the third night in a row I'm going to step out into the dark, get still, look to the skies, and marvel at the Perseid meteor shower. I have time for this. I must do this.

The great, paradigm-shifting German philosopher Immanuel Kant was attending a lecture by a materialistic astronomer. (Materialism: all reality is only physical.) The atheist astronomer was talking about the insignificance of man, based on man's place in the vast universe. The astronomer concluded his lecture with: "So you see that astronomically speaking, man is utterly insignificant." Kant replied: "Professor, you forgot the most important thing, man is the astronomer." (Shared by Boston College philosopher Peter Kreeft.)

In his Critique of Practical Reason, Kant wrote the following, which was eventually engraved on his tombstone:

"Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me."

It's 9 PM. Linda and I are watching TV together. In an hour I'll step outside and look up, as I've done countless times before. 

When I consider God's heavens,
the work of His fingers,
the moon and the stars,
the comet's icy tail,
which He has set in place...

I cannot take reality for granted.

Technology and Spiritual Formation - Bibliography (in process)

The Lutheran Home, in Monroe, MI

Here are the tech-resources I am currently using to write Technology and Spiritual Formation.

For the spiritual formation part I am writing How God Changes the Human Heart: A Phenomenology of Spiritual Formation. I'm drawing on this book to inform my Technology book.

William Davies, The Happiness Industry
Howard Gardner and Katie Davis, The App Generation

Roger Scruton, On Human Nature

My two books are:

Discernment Is a Function of Intimacy


At Redeemer, God is developing us into a discerning community. The question is "God, what are you saying to us?" To answer this question requires much time spent in God's presence, with the Scriptures.

“Discernment” is a fruit of an abiding prayer life. To "discern" is different from to "decide."

Ruth Haley Barton writes that some pastors have the "vague sense that our approach to decision making should be different from secular models—particularly when we are leading a church or an organization with a spiritual purpose. The problem is that we’re not quite sure what that difference is. In the absence of a clear consensus, that difference often gets reduced to an obligatory devotional (often viewed as irrelevant to the business portion of the meeting) or the perfunctory prayers that bookend the meeting. Sometimes even these well-meaning attempts at a spiritual focus get lost in the shuffle!" (Barton, Pursuing God's Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups, Kindle Locations 180-185)

The difference is: God. God's presence. God, doing the leading. God, doing the building. Because unless God builds the house, we are laboring in vain.

What's needed is discernment

"Discernment," writes Barton, "in a most general sense, is the capacity to recognize and respond to the presence and the activity of God—both in the ordinary moments and in the larger decisions of our lives. The apostle Paul says that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we can discern what the will of God is, that which is good, acceptable and perfect (Rom 12:2). This includes not only the mind of each individual but also the corporate mind." (Ib., Kindle Locations 186-189)

What's needed is mind-renewing transformation. Pastors and church leaders must be living in the rivers of constant spiritual formation and transformation, in order to discern what the will of God is. This is what the whole "church" thing is about. Barton writes:

"It is hard to imagine that spiritual leadership could be about anything but seeking to know and do the will of God, and yet many leadership groups do not have this as their clear mandate and reason for existence. This raises a serious question: If we are not pursuing the will of God together in fairly intentional ways, what are we doing? Our own will? What seems best according to our own thinking and planning? That which is merely strategic or expedient or good for the ego?" (Ib., Kindle Locations 201-205)

The more familiar or intimate we are with someone, the more we are able to discern their heart. The more time spent in close dialogue, the more we recognize their voice. The less familiarity, the less discernment. Spiritual discernment is in direct proportion to our intimacy with God.

Spiritual discernment comes from an intimate praying life.

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

I am writing...

How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Linda and I will then co-write our book on Relationships

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Linguistic Imperialism and the Imprisoned Church

Praying, at Redeemer

In my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church I make the case that the words and language we use do more than describe, they shape and structure our experience. I refer to Kenyan scholar Ngugi wa Thiongo's Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature. Thiongo's argument is that, more than British cannons, it was the British schools that taught children English that imprisoned Kenyans. 

My argument is that, in the same way, secular language has colonized the Christian heart and mind. Examples include "church" (meaning a building), "program" (meaning the "order of service"), and that deadly, cancerous word "relevant." (For more see my book.)

I am pleased to see the recent New York Review of Books has an article on Thiongo ("Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and the Tyranny of Language"). While reading, I thought about substituting Church language into Thiongo's ideas. Here we go!

(Thiongo) - “The condition for acquiring the glory of English was the humiliation of African languages."

(Me) - “The result of acquiescing to secular language has been the humiliation of biblical language."

(NYR) - "Long after he had left the Alliance High School, Ngũgĩ was struck by how little he and his cohort had noticed, let alone responded to, their socialization into a Western-oriented outlook. "

(Me) - "I am struck by how little pastors and churches have noticed, let alone responded to, their socialization into a secular-oriented outlook."

(Thiongo) - "The language of power is English and that becomes internalized. You normalize the abnormal and the  absurdities of colonialism, and turn them into a norm from which you operate. Then you don't even think about it."

(Me) - "The language of power is secular English and that becomes internalized. You normalize the abnormal and the absurdities of secular materialism, and turn them into a norm in which you do church. Then you don't even think about it."

(NYR) - "Whether or not the British in Kenya truly believed in their civilizing discourse, the rise of English in place of the local tongue helped to deepen the colonial endeavor and fix its structures into place."

(Me) - "Whether or not the Christians in America truly believed in their disenchanted, reductive discourse, the rise of desacralized language in place of biblical discourse helped to deepen the secular a-religious endeavor and fix its structures into place (in the Church)."

There's much more. This is about linguistic imperialism, which relegates biblical language to an unsophisticated, backwards culture that is uncivilized compared to mature, progressive, rational secular humanity. It overtakes Church culture, and becomes the linguistic air we breathe. Then, churches play the game, striving to be loved, cool, "reasonable," and accepted. While no one notices.

See Leading the Presence-Driven Church, Chapter 7, "The Language of the Presence-Driven Church."

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Our 45th Anniversary

Linda and I bought this pair of coffee cups on our honeymoon at Chicago's Marriott O'Hare.
I am drinking from this cup today!

August 11, 1973 - Linda and I were married.

Today we're taking the day to celebrate 45 years of marriage.

I love Linda. Linda loves me.

Our love feels strong. 

Our love is strong.

Our shared faith in Jesus is the glue that bonds covenantal love. 

He has.

He does.

He will.

Today we thank and praise Him for this.

Linda and me

Friday, August 10, 2018

NOTE TO MY CHURCH FAMILY - Prepping for This Sunday Morning

Dear Redeemer Family:

I'm in our upstairs office at home, praying and preparing and putting together what I am going to share with you on Sunday morning.

God has told me He is going to do something great this Sunday. And why not, right?

I am calling you to pray and prepare your hearts for Sunday.

Here is the Scripture: 2 Chronicles 7:14-16:


DECLARATIONS - Spiritual Hunger and Revival
● Our church is blessed when we stay hungry and thirsty for righteousness and the presence of God. (Matthew 5:6)
● Our church has great spiritual hunger and tenacity which brings great rewards. (Galatians 6:9)
● Our church is always thirsty for more.
● Our appetite for God increases every day.
● We live a life of great spiritual hunger.
● We live a life of radical faith.
● We will increasingly experience every aspect of the salvation that Jesus won for us.
● Our spiritual hunger and personal revival bring breakthrough to everyone around us.
● The Church is triumphant. (Matthew 16:18)
● Our church is known as a revival church, full of power and Christ-likeness.
● Our church walks in the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
● Our church opens doors for radical revival movements that invite the nations to be touched by God.
● Our church walks in sustained revival.
● I’m not waiting for a move of God. I am a move of God.