Saturday, October 30, 2010

Leaving Kenya...

Nairobi at night

It's morning in Nairobi. Had breaklfast at the PanAfric hotel's buffet. Steve Lichty is picking up Al and I - we'll go out for coffee. Cliff picks us up at 4 to go to the airport.

On to Amsterdam, then to Detroit. We've got a 3 1/2 hour layover in Amsterdam. I probably won't post anything more until Sun. evening U.S. time.

As always when I take a trip like this I'll be thinking about many things in the days and weeks to come. I'm so grateful to God for this trip, and for having Al with me, and the extreme graciousness of Cliff Msioki and his people and pastors, to Steve Lichty for the blessing and richness of time spent with him, and for the Kenyan and Uganda people and their great hospitality.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Kenyan Safari!

Eldoret, Kenya
On the road from Eldoret to Nairobi today our host Cliff Msioki said, as we were driving through the Rift Valley, "We may see zebras on the roadside, and maybe a giraffe." Are you kidding? Al and I began looking. A few miles down the road and Al says, "There they are!" Four zebras on the other side of the road. Cliff turned the car around and we stopped, and took pictures. After this there were many more zebra sightings, in groups of 5-15. We saw over a hundred zebras!

We also saw baboons on the roadside. One was on the highway ahead eating roadkill. We drive up next to 5-6 baboons. The one feasting on roadkill narrowly missed getting hit by an oncoming car. We were right next to him, and he jumped out of the way. I got a great picture of a baboon, which I'll post when I get my camera back, since I left it in Cliff's car. He'll return it when he picks us up tomorrow to take us to the airport.

We also saw a herds of gazelles and impalas.

And, we saw two warthogs! But we couldn't get photos of them.

We stopped and ate at an outdoor restaurant - the one where the giant 4-foot tall Marabou storks hang out hoping for a free lunch. Check out the link - they look exactly like that. Now imagine they behave like seagulls, hanging very close waiting for you to toss them food. They stand in a circle around your table, with their weird hunchback positions. When our meal was over Al fed them chicken bones, which they swallowed whole without chewing. These things are carnivores! "They will catch small rodents and reptiles and have even been known to pick swallows out of the air!" (see link)

As we were eating an African grey Hornbill kept flying around us and landing in the nearby trees. Cool!

It was an exhilarating time. I felt like we were on a safari that was costing us nothing!

Oh yes, we stopped on the equator and had our pictures taken - it's 9100' above sea level.

Friday Morning in Kenya + An African Son

Friday morning in Eldoret, Kenya. The hotel's breakfast buffet is on the outside porch. I'm eating breakfast next to the outdoor pool. A bowl of porridge with honey, a fruit drink called "passion juice," fresh mango and fresh pineapple. Both are grown here in the Eldoret area, which is "the bread basket of Kenya."

We take the 5 1/2 hour drive back to Nairobi today. Then tomorrow, 10:30 PM, to Amsterdam, and then home to Detroit.

Here are bullet points from yesterday and more, not necessarily in any order.
  • I talked with a pastor named David, who leads a church in Eldoret. I can tell he is a great leader. He's talking with me about wher he could get a Master's seminary degree in the U.S. I've read a lot about African religions, both prior to coming and while here. We talked about African scholar John Mbiti's idea of African ancestor appeasement and caregiving and ancesters as "the living dead." I asked David about "diviners." Yes, Africa is full of diviners, people who can tell you your future and even more. Some of them have flags on top of their houses to advertise their powers of divination. African is, it could be said, entirely religious. African primal religion believes in a Supreme Being, with many sub-deities who serve the Supreme Being. The Supreme Being is a distant being; the sub-deities are intermediaries. And, even the ancestors, the "living dead," serve their living families as intermediaries between them and God. Mbiti's work is well-known here and very relevant.
  • Duncan is a young pastor from the Maasai tribe. I'm wearing the Maasai bracelet he gave me. Yesterday Duncan wanted to take pictures with me and of me. I have his address. I'll be sending him materials from my teachings. I feel very close to him.
  • Titus was my translator all week. My English messages were translated into Kiswahili. Titus is a 37-year-old pastor whose small church is in Kenya near the Ugandan border. We talked quite a bit. He is very intelligent. I’m sending him my teaching notes, plus I’ll be sending him a book to study. He is, like nearly all the pastors here, very poor. He has one bicycle. Last night he wanted to talk some more. He is an exceedingly gracious and humble man. He took my hands and said to me, “Now you have a son in Africa.”

    My laptop battery is fading. I’ll write some more, hopefully, when I get to Nairobi later, + download a billion photos since the internet is faster in the big city.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Repetitive Worship & the Kingdom of God in Kenya

This morning I reviewed my Spiritual Formation notes for the pastors who are at this conference.


But before that – the worship! Beautiful, God-filled, ridiculously repetitive and thus so very, very memorable and wonderful. The harmonies that are immediately and intuitively broken into...

Al got the old pegs out of the Yamaha FG-180 guitar. (My first acoustic was a Yamaha FG-160.) I brought new strings (Elixers) and slapped them on. I played a guitar improve using DADGAD, and I think the pastors enjoyed it.

I taught about the power (dunamis) and authority (exousia) that is available to us as we dwell attached like a branch to Jesus the Vine. I said that Jesus never prayed for people to be healed but commanded healing. When you have real authority, then all you need to do are things like requesting, demanding, directing. Jesus taight on the power and authority of the Kingdom. And, then, he demonstrated it. I asked if there was a pastor who needed healing. A man raised his hand. He’s had a pain in his throat for a year that has caused him difficulties. I explained to the pastors what I was going to do. I asked for permission to place my hand on his throat. I said, “In Jesus’ name, be healed.” I asked him, “How’s the pain now?” He moved his neck, he gulped several times, looked at me and smiled, “The pain is gone!” Everyone cheered and clapped. I pointed out the obvious (if you think about it): I can’t heal people, but God can. So if a nobody like me is attached to Jesus, his power can flow throw me to heal and deliver. And that’s what happened today.

After this I thought about people who claim to see more healing in places like Africa than they do in the U.S. I feel pretty certain that it could be shown, empirically, that African people have more faith in a God who heals than do people in the U.S. Even among U.S. Christians a whole lot of them don’t think God does this kind of stuff anymore, if ever at all.

We break for coffee and a pastry of some type, not like we have in the U.S. Good!

At the next session I do some teaching on Mark 1, where Jesus goes out to a solitary place and prays. Why did Jesus do that? To find out what the Father wanted him to do. Therefore “prayer” is: talking with God about what we are doing together. I then sent the pastors out for an hour of prayer.

During my prayer time I had this “Aha, I’m in Africa!” moment. While I am looking forward to going home, I will savor each African second to its sweetest and deepest. I’ve sometime not lived in the present, which means I have not lived at all. Only the present is real. Ask Greg Boyd if you think differently.

The pastors returned from their hour of prayer. “Did God speak to you,” I asked. Most raised their hands. “Is there someone who would share what God said to you?” One pastor shared how God called him to repent of his “blood line,” which contained idols and witchcraft and sorcery. A second pastor stood. He said: “Two weeks ago my house burned down. My wife and children were in it. They escaped and are alright. Everything we had was lost, even our precious memorable things. But today as I was praying and meditating on Psalm 23 God told me to look at the suit I was wearing. I then felt how blessed I am, and all that I have. And one day the house will be rebuilt.”

With this I am wiped out. Who am I, anyway, that has worried about not having enough? This man is spiritually beyond me, asymptotically approaching the Real Jesus who, BTW, did not have a roof over his head.

Kenya - A Gift of a Maasai Bracelet

Marabou Storks looking for food. (These are real!)
This has been a great day for me. Here in Eldoret, Kenya, at a Roman Catholic retreat center, I’ve been teaching 70 pastors from Kenya and Uganda. I’m teaching them Spiritual Transformation, the same material I’ve taught at Palmer Theological Seminary, Faith Bible Seminary, Payne Theological Seminary, and our Redeemer Ministry School. (As I’m writing this I now hear the sound of the Muslim call to prayer over loudspeakers. It’s a religious world we live in, and Africa is an exceedingly religious place. Everything that I’m reading, including Peter Paris’s …., + my recent talks with African religion scholar Steve Lichty, confirms this.)


My translator, ___, is a beautiful and highly intelligent man from western Kenya neqar the Ugandan border. Today, during the hour of prayer I assigned, God told him: “All my doing comes from my being.” He showed me this and asked what I thought. I said, “That is true.” And, it’s to be the same for us. God wants to morph our hearts in Christlikeness (Gal. 4:19). I found myself thinking how intelligent he is. At lunch I asked him, “Have you studied this idea before?” “No,” he said. He’d spent a little time at a Bible college but could not afford the tuition any more. This man is a theologian who cannot afford to further his studies. That is not right. I’m thinking and praying about how I can assist him. He does not have a computer or access to the Internet.

The worship today was… exquisite, energetic, compelling. A worship leader led a capella. For it, it was everything African. It was the total, pure African sound rhythmically and melodically. It was also (pay attention now) very repetitive. Thank God some American evangelical Christian wasn’t here to protest and mock this “7-11” worship. As I’ve repeated over and over and over before, all tribal worship is repetitive. British colonialism brought, to Africa, “three verses and that’s enough worship for us.” I say: the repetitive worship coming from these pastors aimed at the throne of God was real worship.

Lunch: cooked raw bananas, rice, vegetables, and some other kind of lentil mix. A lot of food, and delicious! A cup of hot tea with lime and honey was given to me as I am losing my voice. My voice is wasting away, yet my spirit is being renewed day by day with the brothers and sisters.

BTW – I have found Kenyans and Ugandans to be welcoming and warm towards me. They are very gracious, quite anxious to help and serve.

We came back to the hotel for a few hours for a break. Our hotel is 7 kilomoters from the retreat center.

Back at the center – I continued teaching my spiritual formation material, esp. about how we cannot change other people so we can let that one go. The pastors seemed to be thankful for that. But we can be changed, and we can be changed. The change is – into Christlikeness. Paul says, in Gal. 4:19, that the metamorphing is into the likeness of Christ, that Christ would be “formed” in us. The orphing happenes as we enter and dwell in the presence of God, as we live “in” Christ.

At the end of this teaching time Al and I prayed for every pastor individually and gave words of knowledge and prophetic words of strength and comfort and encouragement. It was a beautiful time. Every pastor came forward and knelt to receive blessings and impartation. Very humbling, and empoweing for me.

At one point yesterday a pastor of the Maasai tribe came to me and said “I want to give you this. I want you to wear this so you will remember me.” It was a beaded Maasai bracelet. He put it on my right wrist. I’m wearing it now as I’m writing this. It’s Wednesday morning in Kenya.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Rift Valley, Kenya

Al & I are standing on the edge of the escarpment of the Rift Valley. This overlook is between Nairobi & Eldoret.

The Rift Valley is the Grand Canyon of Africa, except the Rift is way far longer and wider. Amazing!

Tuesday in Eldoret, Kenya

I'm in Eldoret, Kenya. About to go to breakfast. Then, off to teach the pastors from Kenya and Uganda. I am so thankful for the opportunity to do this.

FYI - for some reason I cannot upload photos to anything. I can't attach them to an e-mail or upload to Facebook or upload them here. Since I'm a tech-ignoramus I don't understand what's going on. Could it be the wireless? Too bad, since I've got some cool pictures from on top of the Rift Valley escarpment.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Monday - Driving Across Kenya

Today Cliff drove Al and I and Mike (New Life Mission’s excellent worship leader) from Nairobi to Eldoret – 180 miles – 5 ½ hours.


Highlights include:

• A man leading his camel next to the highway

• Monkees

• Storks

• Extreme poverty (60% of Kenyans live below the poverty line)

• Driving in elevations over 9000 feet!

• A man wearing an MSU Spartan jacket in a gas station (probably the highlight of the trip so far)

• Good dialogue with Cliff, Mike, and Al

• A beautiful shiny iridescent blue bird I’d never seen before

• Pelicans

• A stretch of highway that’s got to be as bad as any paved road can get – because until recently in Kenya trucks had no load limit. So, gigantic grooves are worn into the highway in places.

• The phenomenal Rift Valley. It almost took my breath away. It’s the Kenyan equivalent of the Grand Canyon (not sculpturally), except the Rift dwarfs the Grand Canyon in size.

• Arrival in Eldoret. We eat in the dining room. It’s a buffet. Fried Embu rice; Cream of Caroline soup (if your name is Caroline, don’t go there…); Ugali (a corn thing – I liked it); Lyannoaise potatoes (really, round French fries, but since we’re in lion country why not?); roast rack of lamb (the lyon and the lamb); and Cajun-fried tilapia. When Al and I got to the Cajun fried tilapia all we saw were Cajun fried tilapia heads. I thought Cajun-friend tilapia heads might be a delicacy. At least that’s what I told Al. When Cliff sat down to eat with us I asked if, in Kenya, cajun-friend tilapia heads are a delicacy. If he said “yes” then I’d feel good, and I needed to feel good about this tilapia head since it had precious little to eat on it and was always staring back at me. Cliff said, “No. Didn’t you see the fish bodies and the fish tails? I insisted there were only heads. Cliff then pointed to a nearby table, and there was a tilapia body on someone’s plate. Whoops. Or, maybe other people took all the tilapia bodies and tails and left the heads for Al and I?

I don’t have the best internet setup here at our Eldoret hotel.

70 pastors from Uganda and Kenya will be with me tomorrow. Some of them have driven all day and overnight to get here. Most of them… no, probably all of them…, are economically very poor. I am so grateful to God for the next 3-4 days with these real Jesus-followers!

Monday Morning in Nairobi

Rift Valley escarpment west of Nairobi
Here's the day so far which, on this side of the planet, has just begun. Here we're 7 hours ahead of Detroit time.

  • Slept better last night - got 6 hours of solid sleep. Did not awake in CHM (comatose hibernation mode).
  • Al and I ate at the PanAfric's breakfast buffet. Lots of food, including meats, fruits, pastries, eggs, pancakes, fruit drinks. But for me... I had a bowl of whole grain cereal, and a bowl of coconut cardamom oatmeal with some honey added. I liked it!
  • We're packing up to leave Nairobi today. Cliff picks us up at noon. We drive 5 hours NW to Eldoret. 
  • 70 pastors from Kenya and Uganda await us there. I'll teach them Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
Now... the Rift Valley outside Nairobi. Here's from a site that writes about it.

"The Great Rift Valley is a massive rift or fault on the surface of the earth that runs from northern Syria in the Middle East all the way down to central Mozambique in southeastern Africa. In Africa, the rift splits into two: the Eastern Rift Valley and the Western Rift Valley.


The Eastern Rift Valley runs through Kenya from Lake Turkana in the north and beyond Lake Magadi in the South. It is the home to breathtakingly unique geographical features, including geysers, extinct volcanoes, gorges, escarpments, the Aberdare Range and numerous lakes. Some of the oldest human fossils have been found here.

On the drive from Nairobi, the capital city, to Nakuru in the Rift Valley, there are a number of scenic overlooks along the way, where the ground suddenly drops away from the road into a steep valley that expands several thousand miles in every direction."

I have my camera and binoculars ready.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sunday in Nairobi

Nairobi, while on the equator, has a moderate climate - it's 6000 feet above sea level. Today was a beautiful 75 -80 degree day. Pastor Cliff Msioki picked Al and I up at the hotel and drove us to the place where, on August 7, 1998, the U.S. embassy in Kenya was bombed. It happened in downtown Nairobi, in a very congested area. 291 people were killed and 5,000 wounded. Responsible: al Qaeda. Now there is a memorial to those who died.


We then drove to Ongata Rongai outside Nairobi. Many of these roads have speed bumps the size of Mount Kenya. Literally, on some of them, your vehicle could get hung up and suspended. If it was dark and you were driving and didn't see them that is the end of your car's life mission (which is to transport you). On the way we stopped for a cup of coffee. And, I note, there are many, many Christian ministries and churches along this road.

New Life Mission is a beautiful and effective ministry to children, with a vibrant congregation. As we pulled in the worship was already happening. It was beautiful, powerful, and went on for a long time which, in some of our minds, is very good. "Three verses and we're outta here" is no longer for me. I'm a '7-11' worshiper - 7 verses sung 11 times. Or more. That's tribal, meditative, Hebraic worship, where the stuff gets a chance to sink into the heart. Better a 7-11 worshiper than a McWorshiper. Better one entire day of worship in God's courts than McWorship elsewhere.

After worship there was an offering, and a group of women sang a song as it was collected. Then - announcements. I'm guessing 700 people were there, many of them being young adults.


Cliff introduced me. I preached on the 2-fold methodology of Jesus, which is: proclaim and demonstrate. I told the people about prophecy, then demonstrated it with two people God had given me prophetic words for. Please note: 1 Corinthians 14:3 prophecy is to strengthen, encourage, and comfort. It was well received by these two people; they felt it was from God and for them. Then I told the story of Carl, the marathon runner in our church whose foot was broken and was healed (I've got the hospital records that show this). I asked, "Are there any marathon runners in Kenya?" There was a slight gasp in the people. That's like asking, "Is the pope Catholic?" Kenya is THE long-distance running center of the cosmos! I then made a joke (it seems funny to me). I said, "After church today, I challenge all of you to a long-distance running race." Many smiles among the people... Just kidding, I said.

I asked if there was anyone who had a problem with their feet. A young woman, Julia, raised her hand. She came forward. I explained to the people about "authority" (exousia), and how Jesus gives his followers authority. She had sprained her ankle multiple times and it was not getting better. I asked her what the pain level was on a scale of 1 to 10. "Eight," she said. I then said, "In Jesus' name, be healed." "How is your pain now?" I asked? Julia said "Zero." And immediately as she said "zero," before the people could begin toclap and praise God, there was a "pop" as a ceiling light broke, shattered, and fell to the ground right next to this woman and myself. The people erupted in praise and wonder. I told them that I felt the timing of this light popping (which Cliff said has never happened before) was absolutely perfect. It gave an exclamation point to the healing of Julia's foot. That, I believe, was God. Now there was this increased sense of expectation in all our hearts because God was in the house.


A lot more things happened. Al and I and Cliff prayed over many people, for healing and greater impartation of authority, power, and love.

Afterwards, on the drive back to our hotel, we:
  • saw two groups of baboons on the roadside. My camera battery was dead; Al didn't get to his camera in time to capture them.
  • compared the potholes on the road to the potholes in Monroe County. FYI - our potholes do not take a back seat to Nairobi's.
  • drove along the edge of Nairobi National Park. In that park are: Black rhinos, lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, buffaloes, Giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, elands and diverse birdlife with over 400 species recorded. In my supreme ignorance I asked Cliff, "Do people walk in that park?" Cliff responded, "No, they'd get killed." OK. People drive through the park and stay in their vehicles.
  • Stopped and ate outdoors at a Kenyan Mexican restaurant. Don't laugh. America is not China, and we have Chinese restaurants. People in China laugh at this.
Back in my hotel I crashed. There came a knock on the door - it was Al. He had not taken a nap. Actually, I wouldn't call what I was doing "napping," which has a connotation of lightness about it. I was in comatose hibernation mode (CHM). I'm sure I looked disoriented when I opened the door for Al since I was disoriented. At least I was "authentic."

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Women of Kibera

Why the West Rules


Kibera, in Nairobi


Here's an interesting essay by Ian Morris -  "Latitudes not Attitudes: How Geography Explains History." Morris quotes Malayisan lawyer Shad Faruki as saying: "I am wearing your clothes, I speak your language, I watch your films and today is whatever date it is because you say so."

True. But why this outcome? Morris argues that the West's "rise to global hegemony was largely due to geographical good fortune."

I'm especially thinking about such things while here in Kenya.

Morris's new book is Why the West Rules--for Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future.

First Full Day in Nairobi

Kibera, in Nairobi
I
It's 11 PM Nairobi time. It has been a very full day! Here are some bullets...
  • Awoke at 8. Slept well.
  • Called Steve Lichty (U of Florida Ph.D student & Fulbright scholar who is working on the relationship between African religion and African politics.
  • Steve picks up Al and myself and takes us to a Java House - very, very nice place! We ate breakfast outside.
  • I loved talking with Steve and listening as he shared the stuff he's working on and briefed us an all things Kenyan. I took notes. This was for me a wonderful time, and I learned a lot!
  • Steve dropped Al & I back at our hotel. Then we walked to downtown Nairobi. It was warm, and at times hot - felt like 85 degrees, and lots of sun.
  • We went to a bazaar. I bought some very cool and indigenous jewelry for Linda. Yes, Al and I bartered. I'd like to describe Al's bartering experience but it would take way too long. I witnessed it. You would be proud of Al.
  • Steve picked us up at 3, and toured us around Nairobi.
  • We went to Kibera, a slum of 170,000+, and the second largest slum in all of Africa.
  • Just around the corner from Kibera are the neo-colonial polo fields where the wealthy play.
  • Steve said, "I'll take you to Karen." "Karen" is named after Karen Blixen, whom the movie "Out of Africa" was about. It was beautiful! As we pulled into the Karen Blixen Coffee Garden I called Linda - I was wishing she could be there with me!
  • Jacaranda trees, with their purple petals, are in full bloom all over Nairobi. As I sipped a cappucino in the Karen Blixen Coffee Garden purple petals were falling all around us.
  • We sat and drank coffee and talked with Steve and listened and greatly enjoyed the time. Al pulled out his GPS and said, "We're 7500 miles from Ann Arbor, 6100 feet above sea level, and 1 degree from the equator."
  • A pouring rain then fell.
  • We drove back towards our hotel. All the while Steve is pointing out things. He's more than your basic tour guide - he knows a lot about the socio-political-historical background and always brings it in, which is really helpful to me.
  • Went to the Nairobi version of Super Walmart - it was very big and very modern. Then we ate at another Java Joe's.
Tomorrow morning Cliff Msioki picks us up at the hotel at 9. I'll preach in Nairobi to his congregation - the three services will combine. Most of the people understand English, but Cliff will translate for me in Kiswahili since not all speak or understand English.

Then we'll have lunch, and Cliff will give us his tour of Nairobi.

I think I'll sleep well tonight. Already the jet lag is not nearly as bad as when I went to Bangkok a year ago.

Friday, October 22, 2010

First Night in Nairobi

Sahara Desert

I'm in Nairobi!

Our flights (Al W. & I) were excellent. First, Detroit to Amsterdam. Amsterdam has a nice, efficient airport. But not as nice as Detroit Metro (which is the nicest I've ever been in).

Then, onto the big KLM 747 for the flight to Nairobi. My seat was 56H. The ticket person scanned my ticket and printed out another ticket that read: Seat 2K. Sounds better than 56H! I enter the plane, they direct me to my left, I am in first class! I have a guess how this happened. Probably one of our Redeemer Delta/KLM people upgraded me. It's either that, or God, or luck. Probably, it's "that" and God.

About first class...
  • Big chairs with your own armrests. This is important since on the Detroit to Amsterdam flight a man sat next to me and his arms were as big as chairs, My arm, thus, didn't exactly "rest" on that flight.
  • Heavy-duty luxury plastic silverware comes with your meal. The knife, fork, and spoon were so nice I thought of taking them home and using them for our good dinnerware.
  • Leg room. If you were Yao Ming you'd have enough room.
  • The chairs recline to full prone position. And, they are wide. These chairs are nicer than most people's beds.
  • The chairs have back massagers in them.
  • The food is different, and better, then economy class. This made me feel, for a moment, guilty.
  • But before dinner came we first-classers each got a sizable bowl of assorted nuts. But note this: not one peanut was in that bowl. Need I say more? (Since "assorted nuts" usually means "peanuts," with an occasional walnut chip.)
  • Three times hot wash clothes were brought to us. Why? Because we deserve that kind of treatment, that's why! Yet I wondered..., if they only knew I didn't pay for first class, would I have gotten a wash cloth? 
  • First-classers have their own, isolated bathrooms. Economy-waifs cannot use them. Which means they are always available, since numerically first-classers are "the few."
  • Then, right out of nowhere, I am served a cup of ice cream.
  • In first class you are treated like you are sombody even though you are not.
On the two flights I read Ngugi wa Thiongo's Decolonizing the Mind. Whoa, what a brilliant book, and sad in some places as we read of atrocities and dehumanizing acts done by the imperialistic colonizers of the African continent. Thiongo is a tremendous writer who some thought would receive this year's Nobel Prize for Literature.

I read, on my Kindle, more of The Dark Night of the Soul and was quite impressed with St John of the Cross's insights into shallow, sensual Christianity. Read more of Wayne Proudfoot's excellent Religious Experience. And, a little bit of Thomas Merton, which always goes a very long way.

Al & I both were blown away as we flew across the Swiss Alps and had an amazing, long look at snow-capped peaks and deep, green valleys. These Alps flow into northern Italy, which looked, from the air, spectacular. Down the east coastline of Italy, over Sicily, across the Mediterranean, into northern Africa, then over Libya and Sudan, where we were both in awe at the very big Sahara Desert. How big? 3.6 million square miles. It covers most of northern Africa. The Sahara Desert is almost as big as Europe, and America. We had incredible sun-drenched views of it from 30,000 feet. Ask Al what he thought of this.

We got picked up at the Nairobi Airport by our host, Pastor Cliff Msioki. Cliff drove us into the city where we're staying at the PanAfric hotel. Cliff is such a gracious host. I am honored to be with him and his church this weekend.

Al and I just ate a late dinner. I ordered something I'd never heard of - it was vegetarian and spicy and delicious. Al saw, on the menu, something called "cappucino mushroom soup." Al tried to wrap his mind around that but was having problems doing it. I think he's going to try some tomorrow.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Moral Confusion of Sam Harris

Nietzsche sans God
Atheist and philosophical naturalist Sam Harris thinks there are objective moral values. Me too. An objective moral value (OMV) is a moral value that is objectively true, hence it is true for everyone. Subjective moral values are, by definition, only subjectively true; that is, e.g., true for me but not necessarily true for you.

A number of atheists disagree with Harris and do not believe, in the absence of an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God, that there could be OMVs. And, philosophical naturalists who, definitionally, believe "nature" is all there is, and science is the means to analyze it, mostly do not believe one of the things we find in nature is value. That is, I can weigh and measure and analyze the substance of a rock, but in the weighing and measuring and analysis I do not see "value."

Troy Jollimore, in his review of Harris's The Moral Landscape, writes: "secular liberals have tended to accept a form of moral skepticism or relativism, according to which there are no moral truths at all other than those that can be asserted within a particular cultural context. The idea of an objective moral truth, then, is something that secularists have largely abandoned to believers. And the idea that science, in particular, might have something to say about questions of morality is one that few contemporaries are willing to take seriously. People who go searching for answers to questions of value often simply assume both that science will not help them and that religion is the only alternative." Let's correct that last statement to read: religion and philosophy are the only alternatives. With this I agree. But Harris does not. He thinks that science can tell us about values. And in this he is wrong. (And by "wrong" I am not making a scientific claim.)

A proper understanding of morality, he argues, will reveal that it falls well within the area of inquiry that is governed by science. For moral questions are questions about well-being, and questions about well-being are, in essence, empirical questions about what makes humans and other conscious organisms flourish and thrive. "Questions about values—about meaning, morality, and life's larger purpose—are really questions about the well-being of conscious creatures," he announces on page one. "Values, therefore, translate into facts that can be scientifically understood.""



False, because Harris begs the question. "Well-being" is itself a value. To say something has "well-being" is to make a value judgment. Does, e.g., the deer lying in pain by the roadside have "well-being" as it loses x pints of blood? Science can quantify the blood loss and identify the broken bones. But "well-being," if it exists, is a non-natural property and thus cannot, ipso facto, be studied by science.

Watch this (here it comes again). For Harris "it is equally mistaken, he suggests, to insist that questions of well-being cannot be addressed by empirical research methods. There are, he says, discernible and indeed undeniable differences between an extremely good human life and an extremely miserable one; and there is no good reason for refusing to view those differences as both real and, in the relevant sense, objective." But this begs the question as to what "extremely good life" and "extremely miserable life" might mean, since such qualities are not found under the microscope. Harris already knows or assumes, somehow, what an "extremely good life" is and with this pre-scientific knowledge judges a life to be "good" or "miserable."

I think Harris sees the importance of there being OMVs. As an atheistic naturalist he knows many of his kind deny their reality. See, e.g., atheistic naturalist Joel Marks here, who reasons (correctly) that, on atheism, morals do not even exist. In this regard the idea of a "moral landscape" is an illusion and, like Nietzsche's madman, we're cast adrift on a sea with an infinite horizon. Welcome to atheism.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Nairobi!

Tomorrow I'll fly to Nairobi, Kenya, with my friend Al Willingham. We'll arrive Friday evening, 7:30 PM (Kenya time). Saturday will be a chill-out day for us, hopefully getting in sync with Nairobi time.

On Sunday morning I'll preach at Cliff Msioki's church in Nairobi. Cliff's church has three Sunday morning services, but they will combine together when I am there. Cliff has been praying and fasting all this week in anticipation of what God wants to do on Sunday. I am very expectant about this!

Then Cliff will drive Al and I down from Nairobi (elevation 5500 feet) into and through the ancient Rift Valley and to Eldoret to the northwest (elevation 6500 feet). The drive from Nairobi into the Rift Valley is supposed to be spectacular. When I was in Israel I took 2200 pictures. For this Kenya trip I am very prepared to take 2-3 thousand pictures. My theory is: just keep snapping, even randomly. One good, even great, photo can come out of the many.

From Monday - Friday next week it will be my privilege to teach and minister to pastors from Kenya and Uganda at a retreat center in Eldoret. I will use my Spiritual Formation & Transformation teachings as a platform for the Holy Spirit to move and have his way among us. I know God is going to do unexpected and great things in our midst.

Then, back to Nairobi, and home to Monroe via Amsterdam.

Travel time, from takeoff to touchdown in Kenya: 17 hours. I fly, therefore I read books. My style is to read multiple books at a time. I'm taking with me, on my new Kindle (yay!):
I'll take the following hard copies:
I won't read all of these, but will finish some of them and be deep into all the others. 34 hours on a plane. Some books. My mp3 player loaded with Kenyan music (Suzanne Owiyo, e.g., called the "Tracy Chapman of Kenya"). If Linda were with me this would be perfect.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

William James on Religious Experiences as Authoritative

Jerusalem, in the Church of the Nativity
In my MCCC Philosophy of Religion class I am teaching a section on "religious experience" and philosophical responses to such experience. My text is Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings (Peterson, Hasker, Reichenbach, and Basinger). I'll teach the following essays:
  • :Religious Experiences, St Teresa of Jesus (Avila)
  • Religious Experience as the Root of Religion, William James (from The Varieties of Religious Experience)
  • Religious Experience as Perception of God, William P. Alston
  • Critique of Religious Experience, Michael Martin
  • Buddhist Religious Experience, William James & Merold Westphal
I lecture on these, invite dialogue, and prepare students for their oral exams where they will asked to explain each of these, one-on-one and face-to-face, with me.

The William James oral exam questions will be:

  • State and explain James' four characteristics of mystical experience.
  • What is the authority of religious experience according to James? Explain.
Here's the answer to the second question.

Are mystical experiences (MEs) “authoritative? Briefly, James's answer is this.


1. Mystical states, when well developed, usually are, and have the right to be, absolutely authoritative over the individuals to whom they come.

2. No authority emanates from them which should make it a duty for those who stand outside of them to accept their revelations uncritically.

3. They break down the authority of the non-mystical or rationalistic consciousness, based upon understanding of the senses alone. They show it to be only one kind of consciousness. They open out the possibility of other orders of truth, in which, so far as anything in us vitally responds to them, we may freely continue to have faith.

I agree with 1. That is, BTW, how it works with me.

I agree with 2, if this means “logically” so. There are MEs of other people that function as authoritative for me. E.g., my wife Linda. She is, for me, a credible witness. As have been a number of other people.

I agree with 3. Rationalistic consciousness (empiricism) does not explain all of experience and reality. E.g., consider the statement “The only things we can believe in are things we can see, smell, taste, touch, or hear.” Since that statement itself (viz., the truth of that statement) cannot be seen, smelled, tasted, touched, or heard, it is self-contradictory. That statement itself, called by A.J. Ayer the "verification principle," cannot itself be empirically verified. So it cannot be true.

Persons have experiences that have a noetic quality yet transcend logical or scientific description. If they try to express the quality and content of their experience they resort to the arts - poetry, painting, music, theatre. So, e.g., I saw Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" performed last spring, and was confronted with issues of life, life after death, and life's meaning in ways logic and science cannot convey.

Monday, October 18, 2010

St. John of the Cross on Humility and Pride

The River Raisin
Life's goal, according to St John of the Cross, is contemplative union with God. Progress towards this end is defined in terms of a series of "dark nights" which are, actually, "happy nights," since they are needed in order to intimately dwell with God.

Remember that, for St John, the term "dark night" is not equivalent to "tough times" or "suffering." The Dark Night of the Soul is about, e.g., the impotence of sensual and discursive abilities to know God.

St John refers to the journey of knowing God as "advancing in perfection." Pride blocks such advancing. In John's second chapter (Book One, Chapter 2) he writes of "Some of the imperfections of pride possessed by beginners." Pride is the original pretender that circumvents access to God. But, on the other hand, there are "souls who are advancing in perfection at this time act in an entirely different manner and with a different quality of spirit. They receive great benefit from their humility, by which they not only place little importance on their deeds, but also take very little self-satisfaction from them. They think everyone else is far better than they are, and usually possess a holy envy of them and would like to emulate their service of God."

To the humble God bestows his grace. To the proud God would place them in a "dark night" to purify them of the spiritual imperfection of pride. In that dark night, where all human powers fail, there comes a "passive purgation." (Book One, Chapter 3) Only those who are purged of pride can continue to journey into the presence of God. And this purging includes a renunciation of human abilities as spiritually inefficacious.

Humility? Good. Pride? Bad. When it comes to knowing God.

Dallas Willard Defines Spiritual Formation

The locus of spiritual formation and spiritual transformation is the human heart. I've given my RMS Spiritual Formation students the link to Dallas Willard's "Spiritual Formation: What It Is, and How It Is Done." We'll discuss this at the beginning of our class tomorrow morning.


Willard writes: "Spiritual formation in the tradition of Jesus Christ is the process of transformation of the inmost dimension of the human being, the heart, which is the same as the spirit or will. It is being formed (really, transformed) in such a way that its natural expression comes to be the deeds of Christ done in the power of Christ."


This means that one's heart is formed, or morphed, into Christlikeness (Gal. 4:19). Spiritual formation, Jesus-style, is not about asking "what would Jesus do?" and then trying hard to be like Jesus and do the things he did. If a person had the heart of Jesus the results would be, inexorably, the kind of interior and exterior life Jesus had. With the "interior" being ontologically prior to the "exterior." As Willard says, "Christlikeness is established in the very depths of our being." This is about "change of the inner person, where what we do originates."

(Willard's entire article is ridiculously profound, deep, and insightful. See also Willard's more recent "Spiritual Formation in Christ: A Perspective on What it is and How it Might be Done.")

3,339 and Growing

How many texts does the average American teenager send in a month? Answer: 3,339. Texting is (says the CNN report) "on the rise," as if anyone needed a report to tell us this.

"Our society has gone mad with texting." "Teen females send an incredible 4,050 text per month, while teen males send an average of 2,539 texts. Teens are sending 8 percent more texts than they were this time last year."

The report states: "These stats are eye-popping, but what's even more amazing is that these numbers only keep rising. Texting, data usage and app downloads are nowhere near their peak, but one has to wonder: how many texts is the average teenager actually capable of sending? What's the limit?" If one could constantly stay awake then, theoretically, one could achieve 100% texting. One's being would become, metaphysically, "Texting." I text, therefore I am. I am. I am a Text.

But so what? For me it's this. I have couples in my church whose major mode of commuication is texting. I have counseled marriage in crisis to stop negative-texting and speak face-to-face. My advice is, mostly, no taken. Some couples now cannot communicate except by texting. Should I offer a "save your marriage" conference that's entirely done via texting? Except...  I don't send or receive texts. (See the right side of the Nielsen report chart above.)

(See also Nicholas Carr's The Shallows on how texting is morphing our neuroplastic brains.)

Franz DeWaal & the Atheist Dilemma

One chimp helping another.
Primate-behavioral biologist Franz DeWaal, in today's nytimes essay "Moral Without God?" states that: "The new atheists call themselves “brights,” thus hinting that believers are not so bright. They urge trust in science, and want to root ethics in a naturalistic worldview." But "science" cannot give us the meaning of life. Less than this, science cannot tell us how to live. "Biology can help us understand what kind of animals we are and why our morality looks the way it does. But to go from there to offering moral guidance seems a stretch."

So, science cannot give us moral guidance. I agree. (And Sam Harris is fundamentally wrong.)

DeWaal writes: "Even the staunchest atheist growing up in Western society cannot avoid having absorbed the basic tenets of Christian morality. Our societies are steeped in it: everything we have accomplished over the centuries, even science, developed either hand in hand with or in opposition to religion, but never separately. It is impossible to know what morality would look like without religion. It would require a visit to a human culture that is not now and never was religious. That such cultures do not exist should give us pause."

So, the moral values of Dawkins and Hitchens are essentially Christian-theistic.

DeWaal is saying that the morality of Western society is "Christian," like it or not. His bonobo-examples are of love and servanthood and care. "Mammals are sensitive to each other’s emotions, and react to others in need. The whole reason people fill their homes with furry carnivores and not with, say, iguanas and turtles, is because mammals offer something no reptile ever will. They give affection, they want affection, and respond to our emotions the way we do to theirs." Your dog, like Jesus, came not to be served, but to serve. As does the animal-love of atheist Peter Singer. But not the "strident atheism" of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, re. whom DeWaal wonders "what good could come from insulting individuals who find value in religion? And more pertinently, what alternative does science have to offer?"


DeWaal believes that the building blocks for Christian-theistic morality "are older than humanity." Hints that this is true lie in the behaviors of other primates who "strive for a certain kind of society. For example, female chimpanzees have been seen to drag reluctant males towards each other to make up after a fight, removing weapons from their hands, and high-ranking males regularly act as impartial arbiters to settle disputes in the community."

DeWaal concludes two things:

1) We therefore don't need God to explain where we are at morally today.

2) No good will come from trying to excise religion from society. He writes: "I doubt that science and the naturalistic worldview could fill the void and become an inspiration for the good. Any framework we develop to advocate a certain moral outlook is bound to produce its own list of principles, its own prophets, and attract its own devoted followers, so that it will soon look like any old religion."

Re. (2), I agree. Which shows the folly of the "New Atheists" in thinking they could do any "good" or anything at all in eradicating religion. For DeWaal the idea of eradicating religion in the name of atheistic naturalism is essentially self-contradictory because "religions" will inevitably form. He calls this "The Atheist Dilemma."

Re. (1) I think DeWaal is guilty of the genetic fallacy. Any evolutionary explanation of how we got, morally, where we are today does not logically eliminate God. It also does not does not answer the philosophical questions re. the "oughtness" of moral values. Even if I evolved to believe that, e.g., killing six million Jews is wrong, we still have the question: "Is genocide wrong?" This raises the metaethical question of objective moral values.



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Friday, October 15, 2010

Worship + Pray: Saturday Night at Redeemer

SATURDAY NIGHT AT REDEEMER:


Our monthly WORSHIP INTERCESSION NIGHT will take place in the sanctuary from 6-8 pm.

Bring your Bible, your journal and a heart ready to simply be with Him! Also, please feel free to bring

any prayer requests you have on your heart.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Kenya's Rift Valley Near Eldoret

A week from now I'll be on a plane to Nairobi via Amsterdam.

Then, I'll spend one week in the Rift Valley near Eldoret, Kenya.

I found some photos of what this area looks like. As I look at these I'm feeling excited about being there soon!



Marriage Seminary with Craig Miller - What You Will Learn


You will not be the same - MARRIAGE SEMINAR


If you want radical ways to radically change your relationship this seminar is for you (both of you)!

WHEN:

Friday Nov. 5th from 7pm to 9:30pm

Saturday Nov. 6th from 10am to 6pm

Monroe County Community College, A building, room 173

Seminar will benefit:

• Married couples

• Premarried couples

• Spouses that want to learn (even if your mate cannot attend)

COST:

Cost for seminar- $35.00/couple or $20 if only one person can come

(Includes registration, seminar manual, and refreshments. Lunch on your own)

TO REGISTER:

Contact Redeemer Fellowship Church

5305 Evergreen Dr, Monroe, MI

734-242-5277

Presenter is Craig Miller who has 30 years of experience through his work as a Christian counselor with MASTERPEACE Counseling, a nationally-acclaimed speaker, syndicated radio talk show host, author of books and articles, and host of TV special, Better Life Spotlight. For more information see his ministry web site at: www.insightsfromtheheart.com

You will learn:

• Emotional difference between men and woman

• Tapping into the emotional side of your spouse.

• Why we become defensive and what to do about it.

• When your love bank is not filled- and how to fill it

• How your past emotional baggage affects your relationships.

• Cutting off hurtful patterns, relationships, and curses from your past.

• Why you and your mate act the way we do and what can be done to improve it

• Practical steps to improve communication with your spouse and family.

• Effective ways to pray for your relationship that will make a difference

• Conflict resolution strategies & Your love language made easy

• How depression, sleep deprivation, diet, and Attention Deficit Disorder affect relationships

(There will be opportunities for questions throughout the seminar)

"No" Is a Freedom Word

Thomas Merton wrote that anyone who, every time they have a desire, says "yes" to that desire and follows it, is not a free person. For example, Linda and I ate in downtown Ann Arbor last Friday evening. It was beautiful and warm and we ate outside at a Greek restaurant. This is when I heard a voice say, "John, you want me, and you know it." Inwardly I responded: "Yes."

After eating we walked up the street toward where we were parked. As we passed a store, I stopped. "You want me... come inside..." And I obeyed. And there it was. The vanilla bean cupcake with the soft cream-cheesy icing looked at me with loving eyes. How could I refuse its invitation? As we walked out of The Cupcake Station I was not a free man. I could not say "No."

Anyone who wants to follow after Jesus will use the word "No" many times over their lifetime. Eugene Peterson puts it this way.

"There is always a strong ascetic element in true spiritual theology. Following Jesus means not following your impulses and appetites and whims and dreams, all of which are sufficiently damaged by sin to make them unreliable guides for getting any place worth going. Following Jesus means not following the death-procrastinating, death-denying practices of a culture which, by obsessively pursuing life under the aegis of idols and ideologies, ends up with a life that is so constricted and diminished that it is hardly worth the name." (Eugene Peterson, Subversive Spirituality, 12)

Recently a friend and leader who comes to Redeemer said to me, "Coming to Redeemer will make everyone, at times, uncomfortable." He smiled approvingly as he said these words. Jesus didn't come to trick and seduce religious seekers to "become Christians" by offering them free cupcakes. Taking up the cross of Christ daily means, logically, laying down things that would prevent you from cross-carrying. It means saying to a number of things, "No, I will not carry you another inch!" Eugene Peterson once more:

"Grammatically, the negative, our capacity to say No, is one of the most impressive features of our language. The negative is our access to freedom. Only humans can say No. animals can't say No. Animals do what instinct dictates. No is a freedom word. I don't have to do what my glands or my culture tells me to do. The judicious, well-placed No frees us from many a blind alley, many a rough detour, frees us from debilitating distractions and seductive sacrileges. The art of saying No sets us free to follow Jesus." (Ib.)

The person who is able to say No to follow after Jesus is far from a repressed person. "Ascetic practice sweeps out the clutter of the god-pretentious self, making ample space for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; it embraces and prepares for a kind of death that the culture knows nothing about, making room for the dance of resurrection." (Ib.)

Free people use "No" many times every day. What are such people like? Eugene Peterson, once more... "Whenever we are around someone who is doing this well, we notice the lightness of step, the nimbleness of spirit, the quickness to laughter. H.C.G. Moule wrote that these dominical negatives "...may have to carve deep lines in heart and life; but the chisel need never deface the brightness of the material." (Ib., 12-13)

Just say No. You'll sleep better, walk lighter, and maybe lose some pounds in the process.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Salvation as Rescue

Mario Gomez, 63, the oldest of the trapped miners, was the ninth man to be rescued.
He vowed never to go below again.

Long after I fell asleep last night Linda stayed up and watched the first Chilean miners emerge in the capsule called "Phoenix." When I awoke today we watched #s 10 & 11 step from darkness into the light. Seeing miner #10, Alex Vega, hold his wife in an enduring embrace was joy-filled and emotional.

We have here a metaphor for the Jesus-salvation idea. While I was in darkness, light entered the world. God descended to me in the form of humanity. Love came down and rescued me. As I emerged from darkness into light all heaven rejoiced. Now, years later, I still remember the dark world I once inhabited - a world of drugs, alcohol, self-centeredness and self-indulgence, failure, and eventually despair. At the young age of 21 I was in darkness and despair. I had flunked out of college, destroyed some relationships, and didn't have a clue about who I was or what, if anything, I was to do.

Then, one day, someone said these words to me: "God loves you." At that moment it was as if a drill bit had broken through the rock walls of my heart, revealing light from the land of the living. A hand reached forth. I took hold of it. I was lifted from death to life. My parents rejoiced.

Salvation is rescue. Salvation is redemption. Salvation is life. I was saved!

Today one miner said, "I'll never go back to mining again." And I have never gone back to the dark place I once was in. "Gracias Senor" is written on the front of the miners' t-shirts. Thank you God.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Christology of Acts

Boy, in Jerusalem

Yesterday at Redeemer was a milestone for our church family. In the spring of 2005 I felt God say to me that we were to preach through the four Gospels, and do so chronologically. We did it. Yesterday was the last (and 260th!) Real Jesus message. We had people share testimonies about what they've learned about Jesus. As a church, we know Jesus better, and more accurately. Because we live in an increasingly Jesus-illiterate culture, I see this as extremely important and relevant.

The result of my intensive Jesus research has brought me closer to him, more taken by him, and more familiar with him. My passion for Jesus has only increased!

Next Sunday we begin "The Christology of Acts." We'll preach the Jesus and Kingdom ideas in the Book of Acts.

Then, we flow into the exalted "Christology of Paul." I'm already meditating on Paul's letters (again), and studying Gordon Fee's excellent Pauline Christology. This preaching series will take me into the nursing home, from where I'll continue preaching holographically.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

William James on Religious Experience

Linda, in Sioux Falls

Next week I'll begin teaching, in my MCCC Philosophy of Religion class, on the nature of religious experience, understood and evaluated philosophically. I am excited about doing this. I think the students will find this subject interesting. And, it's the first time I've taught this section, so I'm looking forward to learning a lot myself.

After looking at the writing of Teresa of Avila as representative of religious-mystical experience, we'll turn to William James' classic The Varieties of Religious Experience. James says that mystical experiences (MEs) have four qualities. They are:


1. INEFFABILITY
a. An ME “defies expression.”
b. “No adequate report of its contents can be given in words.”
c. An ME is a “nondiscursive experience.”
d. Therefore “its quality must be directly experienced; it cannot be imparted or transferred to others.” (In Peterson, et. al., Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings; 43)
e. MEs are more like “feelings” than like “states of intellect.”

2. NOETIC QUALITY
a. Even though MEs are like feelings, MEs “seem to those who experience them to be also states of knowledge.” (43)
b. They have a knowledge, or “noetic” quality. “They are states of insight into depths of truth unplumbed by the discursive intellect.”
c. “They are illuminations, revelations, full of significance and importance.” But they are “inarticulate.” Yet they carry noetic weight, noetic importance.
i. MEANING: “I know… [e.g.]… that God spoke to me/guided me/appeared to me/answered my prayer/…”

3. TRANSIENCY
a. MEs “cannot be sustained for long.”
b. …”Except in rare instances, half an hour, or at most an hour or two…” (44)

4. PASSIVITY
a. When an ME happens, “the mystic feels as if his own will were in abeyance, and indeed sometimes as if she were grasped and held by a superior power.” (44)

James argues that MEs are authoritative for the persons who have them. "Mystical states, when well developed, usually are, and have the right to be, absolutely authoritative over the individuals to whom they come." But they do not necessarily carry authority for those who do have have a particular ME. "No authority emanates from them which should make it a duty for those who stand outside of them to accept their revelations uncritically."

I agree. I have had a number of God-encounters and experiences over the years, and have catalogued them in my journals. I also agree with James when he writes:

[Mystical experiences] "break down the authority of the non-mystical or rationalistic consciousness, based upon understanding of the senses alone. They show it to be only one kind of consciousness. They open out the possibility of other orders of truth, in which, so far as anything in us vitally responds to them, we may freely continue to have faith."

Precisely. Since I am not a philosophical naturalist or materialist I could not view reality or the knowledge of it to purely natural events. Philosopher William P. Alston says that the idea of having MEs will seem incredible, unintelligent, and incoherent to many. But Alston asks: “Why should we suppose that the possibilities of experiential givenness, for human beings or otherwise, are exhausted by the powers of our five senses.” (In Ib., 52)

Tomorrow at Redeemer

Gary Wilson & Jeff Edwards

Tomorrow is the last message in our 5+ years of preaching through the Gospels on the Real Jesus. After my message (which is on Jesus' Ascension and the amazing thing that happened immediately afterward with the disciples), we'll worship. Gary Wilson will have his potter's wheel on the platform, surrounded by our worship team. And, inspired by God's Spirit, will create something as we worship.

For me I anticipate that tomorrow will be a foundational, creative moment in our Redeemer family.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Ngugi wa Thiong'o - to Win Pulitzer Prize for Literature?


I've got Ngugi wa Thong'o's Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature
to read on my flight to Nairobi. I thought of getting his massive, almost-800-page Wizard of the Crow but thought it too long, even for 17 hours in the air.Today's Daily Nation speculates that Ngugi will win this year's Pulitzer Prize for Literature. It will be awarded on Thursday.

Fish & Frogs Fall From the Sky


In preparation for my trip to Kenya I read Nairobi's Daily Nation to check current events. Today's paper has an article called "Experts warn of more ‘fish and frogs’ rain." Literally, the sky rains fish and frogs.

"Days after fish and frogs “rained” from the sky in Nakuru, weather experts have warned Kenyans to expect more such spectacles. “This is going to occur more often because of climate change,” Kenya Meteorological Department director Joseph Mukabana said on Tuesday. Dr Mukabana said fish and frogs are sucked from the water surface by strong winds into the clouds, which eventually rain down all that has been collected."

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Partial Jesus of Anabaptist Spirituality?


I am enjoying reading David Augsburger's excellent Dissident Discipleship. This work is representative of Anabaptist spirituality. Dave writes: "Imitation of Christ is, at heart and center, imitation of Christlike love, the love we call agape." (51) And: "Attachment is actual encounter with the Jesus of the Gospels and engagement in his utterly radical claims on us and on creation." (50)

Dave sums this last statement up with five propositions. (50) And, he describes the love of Jesus as having seven distinctive characteristics. (51-52)

The things Dave is writing about so far are clearly Real Jesus things. But missing are elements that are at the heart of Jesus' kingdom message; viz., his authority over demons and his redemptive power as demonstrated in many healings. The Jesus-story is shot through with the spiritual battle against Satan and the issue of authority over diseases. "Actual encounter with the Jesus of the Gospels" must include these core realities. Of course I want Dave (and The Naked Anabaptist) to write about and celebrate these realities. But more than that, they are there, front and center, in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. While Anabaptist insights are profound and instructive, I now wonder if I will end up encountering a partial Jesus?

Nietzsche and the Death of God


In my MCCC philosophy of religion class I just presented and explicated Nietzsche's famous "parable of the madman." Tonight I read some more of Stephen Williams's The Shadow of the Antichrist: Nietzsche's Critique of Christianity. The section I'm at is Williams's commentary on Nietzsche's parable. He calls it "one of those purple passages whose impact is virtually deadened by comment." (119) Nonetheless, he offers six bullets.

  1. It tells us that God and theism are gone.
  2. There are plenty of people around who know it.
  3. There are not plenty of people around who understand it.
  4. The demise of God and God's world is the product of human will and human deed, not an accident.
  5. It is more massively world-historical than anything imaginable.
  6. It induces vertigo as we think about the future.
Nietzsche, in the guise of the madman, has been likened to the biblical prophet John the Baptist. Evelyn Underhill called him "that unbalanced John the Baptist of the modern world." (Ib., 120) When the madman gives his prophetic announcement about the logical ramifications of the death of God and the village atheists don't get it he says, "My time is not yet come," echoing Jesus' words in John 2:4.

In Human, All Too Human, Nietzsche said, "There will never again be a life and culture bounded by a religiously determined horizon." (In Ib., 121) For that reason the death of God is the most prodigious event. "Ultimate definitive truths" do not exist. With the moral foundation Christian theism provided now gone, humanity is cast adrift, directionless. For anyone interested in atheism, this is the real thing. Vertiginous.

Looking for a Clothed Anabaptist

Monroe
I began reading David Augsburger's Dissident Discipleship: A Spirituality of Self-Surrender, Love of God, and Love of Neighbor. Dave, now of Fuller Theological Seminary, is one of my former professors. Were I to choose the 5 people who have most influenced my spiritual life, Dave would be on the list.

He's a brilliant thinker and writer. This recent book is on Anabaptist spirituality. It's made a comeback, especially through people like Shane Claiborne. I deeply admire the true, sold-out love of the Real Jesus who brings his upside-down Kingdom view of loving one's enemies. Love them, don't shoot them. Sounds like Jesus to me. There is some very good stuff in Dave's book. I'm certain I'll be writing on some of it.

On a bit of an Anabaptist roll, I ordered The Naked Anabaptist, by Stuart Murray. The word "naked" now appears in two prominent Christian titles, the other being The Naked Gospel, which I have read. So for now "naked" is in, "clothed" is out. I'll suggest below that "clothed"is a very good thing and, in a major way, superior to naked.

Check this out: Greg Boyd writes the forward to Naked Anabaptist. Here are some things Greg says.
  • "Western civilization has entered a post-Christian age." (9)
  • "In American, Christendom's last remaining fortress, the conquest mentality of the "church militant and triumphant" is waning." (Ib.)
  • Not only is that not a bad thing, it's something celebrate. I agree.
  • "Now, having left the Egypt of Christendom, we must prepare ourselves for a long and difficult journey in the wilderness." (Ib.)
  • "There is an increasingly shared conviction that the kingdom of God we are called to is radically different from all versions of the kingdom of this world." (Ib. I now think of black theologian James Cone's writings on Jesus and the Kingdom.)
  • "While the mainstream church has, to a significant degree, unwittingly absorbed the values of intense individualism, consumerism, and materialism, more and more post-Christendom disciples in the West are becoming convinced that these values are at odds with everything Jesus was about." (10)
  • "All followers of Jesus are called to live in committed communities with one another as we together cultivate a lifestyle characterized by simplicity, humility, generosity, and a passion for jusrice." (10-11)
To all of which I say, amen. That's the Real Jesus. Or, at least half of him. That's the "naked Anabaptist" idea of Jesus which is on target and compelling. Dave Augsburger beautifully expresses this. But...

...where's the Real Jesus stuff about authority, power, healing the sick, and casting out demons? The Real Jesus instructed his followers to wait in the city until they are clothed in power from on high. I'm after this Jesus, so I'm on the lookout for a "clothed Anabaptist"; viz., one who is attached to community, lives in love even for one's enemies, is an agent of reconciliation and justice and peace, AND is clothed with power from on high in the "signs and wonders" - Book-of-Acts-authority sense. I didn't see this in Shane Claiborne's writings (and I do admire him a lot), and don't see it in Dave Augsburger's book... yet. Yet in the actual Gospels Jesus both proclaims the good news of the Kingdom of God and demonstrates this with acts of redemptive power. Are there any clothed Anabaptists out there?

Sunday, October 03, 2010

The Final Recognition Scene in Luke

Double-click on this to get a better view.

Towards the end of the Jesus-gospel-story there are a number of "recognition scenes." People get their eyes open to the Real Jesus and what he is about. Like Thomas, who declares something no one has said before - "My Lord and my God!" Like the two Emmaus walkers, who suddenly recognize Jesus when he breaks the bread around their dinner table.

For me these kind of "recognition scenes" or "increasing revelation scenes" remind me of those "magic eye" pictures you see in shopping malls. A group of people cluster around one of them and stare, trying to see the 3-D image embedded within. Then, suddenly, the image appears!


This morning at Redeemer I preached on the last gospel-recognition scene. In Luke 24:44-49 we read that Jesus "opened the minds of the disciples." Then, he told them three things that they had heard before:

1. The Son of Man must suffer and die
2. The Son of Man will rise from the dead
3. The message of REPENT + FORGIVE will be preached to all nations

Even though the disciples had heard these things before, they did not understand them. They did not really "see" them. For example, it was phenomenally hard for them to get the "big picture" that the Messiah must suffer and die. That did not sound like God's Messiah to them!

But then, their minds were opened. Now, they got the "Big Picture" of God's redemptive activity. As I preached on this this morning I thought of how, 40 years ago, words that I had heard hundreds of times before became suddenly very clear to me. A campus minister came to my university apartment. We talked and debated a little. Then he said, simply, "I believe there is a God, and that God loves you."

At that moment my life changed forever. I knew God existed, and that God loved me. Those simple words set off an inner revolution. Today, even this evening, the revolution continues. What what the disciples experienced in Luke 24 may have been something like that. With their minds now open, the loving, brilliant beauty of a God who would come and suffer and die to atone for their sins became clearer. They knew, in non-discursive way!

BTW - I showed this "magic eye" picture this morning. In the middle Jesus hangs on a cross, a soldier kneels to his left holding a sword, and in the background, to the left and right, hang the two crucified thieves.