Monday, June 29, 2015
Our twin son David was stillborn. If this has happened to you as a parent, here's a helpful article: "How to Mourn with the Parents of Stillborn and Miscarried Children."
|So-Fee and me|
One day I will die. Death is more certain than taxes. Though death will come to us all, many live in denial of that truth.
One result of my conversion to Christ 44 years ago was a greater awareness of death. Being a philosophy major helped me, since "death" is a very philosophical theme. Heidegger, for example, told us that life is best lived in light of one's death. The death of Socrates, as told by Plato, is philosophically famous as a example of a good life and a good death. Attending a theological seminary and becoming a pastor meant that I was always being called into life-and-death situations, some of which ended, of course, in death.
I have done many funerals. I did the funerals of my mother, my father, and Linda's mother and father. My infant stillborn son David never got a funeral because of the crazy circumstances surrounding his expiration. When you minister at a funeral you deal with death. You meet with people whose loved ones are gone.
I have cried at the death of loved ones. I cried when we put our dog So-Fee "to sleep" a few years ago. That was one of the hardest things I have ever done. We loved her so much! Driving her to the veterinarian's office as when she was dying was, for me, ridiculously painful. The fact that she trusted in us, in me, but could not be communicated to, made the situation harder. It also made me angry. Angry... at death... at the fact of death.
For several years I was the pastoral chaplain at the Mid-Michigan Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Lansing. This was Sparrow Hospital's "HOPING" group. HOPING: Helping Other Parents In Normal Grieving. My loss of David made me, in some way, "a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief." So once or twice a year I would speak, representing HOPING, to parents who just lost their children in the hospital. That was intense. It still feels intense as I write about it.
I will never forget these things. I do not want to forget them. I cannot and should not forget that death is still with us. In times of death, in times of walking through the valley of the shadow of death, some people think and reflect. Not all, but some. I once did a funeral where friends of the drug-overdosed deceased were having a tailgate "party" in the funeral parking lot. Alcohol was their drug of choice for dealing with grief. They staggered into the funeral service having failed to "drown their sorrows."
I see every funeral as a God-opportunity. Worldviews kick in at funerals. Life is way, way bigger than death. Some people are weighing things, evaluating things, dealing with incomplete things, with unsaid things that should have been said, with the experiential finality of death, and with their own mortality. All of these are thematic in the Gospel of Jesus the Christ. I share how forgiveness is possible in Jesus, and how in His resurrection we have hope beyond the grave. As I speak I see people who are listening, who are HOPING. Some who live in denial come out of that dark closet and stand, for a while, in the light. In that moment they are looking for some hope, and before them stands the Hope of the World.
How do I handle death? I like what Thomas Merton said after one of his healthy meditations on life's mortality: "The important thing is simply turning to [God] daily, preferring his will and mystery to everything that is evidently and tangibly "mine."" (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander) Note the quotes around the word "mine" since, obviously, we own nothing in this earthly life. This includes other people. I don't even think we own our own selves.
I'm going to die. You are too. But Christ has been raised. Therefore I have hope, and you can, too. Today I choose to live in the light of that eschatological hope and connect with "Christ, the HOPE of glory."
Saturday, June 27, 2015
In the wake of the Supreme Court decision to change the definition of marriage it is important for Jesus-followers to remember whose kingdom they really belong to. Jesus did not come to establish "Christian nations." He said "My kingdom is not of this world," while rejecting opportunities and invitations to rule over Israel as an earthly king. (See, e.g., Greg Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation.)
It is also important to understand that:
1) Every person has an ethical worldview. (See, e.g., Lewis Vaughn, The Power of Critical Thinking, Chapter 11, on applying logic to ethical thinking.)
2) In formulating an ethical system no one looks to Supreme Court rulings for guidance.
3) This means that, as a Jesus-follower, the Supreme Court has no influence on my ethical worldview.
In my worldview "marriage" is defined as between a male and a female. While I might have been glad had the Supreme Court agreed with me, such agreement would not bolster my already-established ethical position on marriage. In the same way the Court's decision to define marriage unethically (as seen from my worldview's POV) is fundamentally irrelevant to me.
Note: One excellent example of formulating a Christian Worldview is Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament.
On Wednesday night I'll be speaking n our main session on "Jesus and Money." I am very excited to give this message!
I'll also lead two workshops/seminars. The first is on "Leading the Presence-Driven Church: The Distinction Between Discerning and Deciding." The second will be an informal Q&A around theological and cultural studies I've been doing. I'll give the participants a bibliography, with some explanation. Then we'll discuss whatever. I'm looking forward to doing this.
Friday, June 26, 2015
Will the Supreme Court's irreligious decision to redefine marriage affect pastors and churches? For those of us concerned that our government may one day force us to act against our strong, decided moral judgments, one helpful resource is: "Protecting Your Ministry From Sexual Orientation Gender Identity Lawsuits" (thank you Lora and Grady).
This is a major resource, well put-together, that may prove helpful in these eroding times. (It's free to download.)
From the booklet, p. 1 - "SOGIs [Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity ordinances] have been invoked to attempt to force Christian photographers, bakers, and florists to participate in same-sex ceremonies, in violation of their religious beliefs about sexuality and marriage. They have been used to attempt to force a Christian printer to create advertisements celebrating a "gay pride" festival. SOGIs have been used to attempt to force Christian owners of wedding venues to host same-sex ceremonies, and Christian adoption agencies to choose between placing babies in motherless or fatherless same-sex homes or go out of business... [In this booklet] you will find examples of what other Christians around the country are facing; how your church, school, or ministry may be vulnerable to similar threats; and what you can do to secure crucial legal protections to help enable you to weather the fast-approaching legal storms."
Some of my friends have responded back to me wondering if my response is more fear-based and protectionist. Yes and no. My thoughts are:
- There are rational fears, to which we should respond if possible.
- Some of us (like myself) have followed this discussion for 40 years. So I doubt that my response to the Supreme Court decision to redefine the word 'marriage' is reactive. Responsive, yes. Reactive, no. Concerned, yes.
- Churches may be vulnerable to similar threats. Therefore I and others see it as wisdom to anticipate what we see as rational, threatening possibilities to our religious freedoms. Wisdom looks ahead. This wisdom (while not perfect) is grounded in heaps of socio-cultural studies and observations over a period of many years (for me, beginning in 1975).
" Without soul freedom we have no other liberties. The church cannot outsource our convictions to the state. This resource wisely helps equip churches on how to remain faithful to our mission in a culture that often disagrees with our message."
Russell D. Moore, President
Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
"Same-Sex Marriage Is Not About "Rights""
"Same-Sex Marriage Is Not About "Marriage Equality," But About the Definition of 'Marriage'"
Christianity Today has a helpful article which I'll post in full - "Here We Stand: An Evangelical Definition of Marriage: Nearly 100 leaders respond to Supreme Court legalizing marriage."
Thursday, June 25, 2015
|Munson Park in Monroe|
What does Nouwen mean by this?
First, "solitude" is being alone with God. There can be an interior solitude even when others are around. This inner condition is cultivated as one takes much time, without the presence of other people, to be alone in the presence of God.
Second, solitude is the place of the "great struggle." The struggle is "against the compulsion of the false self." This is the self that has come out of the kingdom of darkness. The false self is life-denying, controlling, manipulative, fearful, defeatist, and condemning. In solitude, especially as one begins to practice it, these unloving voices can make the experience crushing. In our busyness we have covered them up. Now, in our solitary unbusyness, the voices of darkness step onto the stage of our soul and recite their lines.
Third, solitude is also the place of the "great encounter." Here we meet "the loving God who offers himself as the substance of the new self." Here is God, who calls our name, saying, "You are my beloved child." In the God-encounter nothing surpasses this.
In solitude, the false self is burned away by the purging fires of loving holiness. This is soul's transformation into the joyous freedom of Christlikeness.
I was in the Jesus Movement. Not the "Jesus Institution." It is essential to understand this distinction. The "Jesus Institution" is mostly spectator sport minus the word "sport." It is audience minus participation. It moves slower (if at all) than oozing molasses. Here's how this works.
Linda and I love to go to movies. After a movie we ask each other the question, "So what did you think of that? Thumbs up, or thumbs down? Or, maybe, thumbs sideways?" Sometimes we disagree. "The story line was weak." "The acting was poor." "I fell asleep." "That movie deserves an Oscar." And so on. Obviously, we were not part of the story. When you are not part of the story you evaluate it. You become a movie critic. That's what audiences do; viz., they critique.
Church-as-institution, which can mean we're in "maintenance mode," births an audience that sits, observes, and evaluates. Criticism is the inevitable fruit of institutionalization. In the Institutional Church people critique the color of the sanctuary carpet. "Worship wars" feed on institutionalization-as-lack-of-Movement. People become an audience of onlookers. "Church" becomes entertainment. Onlookers look and criticize. This is not good.
It is the nature of revolutionaries to revolt. This is good. This is the revolutionary nature of Real Jesus stuff. When persons are engaged in the Movement energy is directed forward. Where forward movement increases criticism decreases. We revolt against the false gods that are worshiped on the punishing honor-shame hierarchies of the world system.
Critics in the church are not engaged in the Revolution. "Church" is a People Movement, a part of the Jesus Revolution, called out (ek-kaleo) to engage in the redemptive Cross-activity of Jesus. Viva la Revolucion!
Wednesday, June 24, 2015
We have been privileged to hear confessions of sins, failures, faults, struggles, shortcomings, wounds, and woundedness. We keep such things confidential. We never talk about them without permission to other people. And, we do not look down on struggling people. Why not? Because it would make our rescue efforts much harder! Instead of looking down on people we have to get down with them (= "mercy"). Why on earth would we gossip about and slander people we are trying to rescue?
"Gossip" is: non-value-added talk about others, behind their backs. Gossip is talking with others about someone else's failures and faults.
"Slander" is: demeaning the character of another person.
What you share with us… we never share with other people. Why not? Because it’s none of their business, and because it will harm the rescue effort. It is immoral, sinful, evil, satan-inspired stuff to gossip about people and slander people. So I am not going to do this. I am a greatly-rescued person on a rescue mission and I am not going to talk about the people God and I are trying to rescue.
We are told in Scripture that to do this would endanger their lives.
- Leviticus 19:16 says: “‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people. “‘Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the LORD."
- In Psalm 140:11 "slander" is compared to violence: "May slanderers not be established in the land; may disaster hunt down the violent." "Slander" is a violent, abusive act.
- Someone who slanders and gossips obviously is not following Jesus, for Jesus says in Matthew 15:19: "For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander." "Slander" is evil. It is satanic.
- In Romans 1:29-30 gossip and slander are marks of God-hating: They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil.
Gossip and slander are antithetical to the heart-circumcising cross of Christ.
In ancient times bottom-caste criminals were put to death by crucifixion. Sometimes a note would be attached to the cross for people to read as they paparrazi-ed on the brutalized dead body. See, for example, the enemy of our souls is pouring on the shame in Mark 15:26:
The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS.
If that were me hanging on a cross for my sins and faults and failures it would take a scroll to list them all.