A crushing, yet liberating enlightenment (paradox, anyone?)

John Howard Yoder’s book The Politics of Jesus is breaking me. Shredding me. There are times in reading where I nod along with what he saying, there are times where I feel myself about to fall apart in a mess of tears and conviction, there are times I don’t understand what the crap he’s saying because he drops ridiculous vocabulary, there are times I’m angry because he’s Biblically and consistently showing me that I hold many of my views in opposition to God’s expectations for how I would view and interact with others, and there are times my jaw drops because what he’s suggesting is so revolutionary, so paradigm-shattering, that if Christians grasped it and lived by it, our witness in the world would be transformed.

In other words, when the world thought of “Christian”, they wouldn’t think “homophobic and judgmental,” they’d think “radical love and commitment to their God.”

Politics of Jesus is breathtaking in its scope, and I’m only now beginning to grasp it after reading large parts over a year ago. I cannot claim ignorance or justify my inaction in so many areas of my life.

I’m not just called to care about my friends and enemies. I’m called to actively give my life for them.

I’m not just called to be aware of God’s being and expectations for my life. I’m called to stand in awe of Him and quake in his Presence, giving deep respect to Him as I recognize I am creation and He is creator.

I’m not just called to give intellectual assent to what God has done (and is doing). I’m called to line up my life in its entirety: intellect, emotions, thoughts, actions, and speech with a commitment to being transformed into the image of Christ.

My first and primary allegiance is not to liberalism or conservatism or democracy or moralism or judgmentalism: it’s to a King and a Kingdom. Much thanks to Derek Webb for continuing to radically shape my thoughts as well.

Reality

I was messing around on some blogs today (trying to avoid my paper) and happened upon Aaron Monts’ blog and a shocking, raw picture. Almost immediately I heard Derek Webb start up in my brain…”poverty is so hard to see when it’s only on your tv and twenty miles across town. where we’re all living so good, that we moved out of Jesus’ neighborhood…where’s he hungry and not feeling so good from going through our trash.” (from “Rich Young Ruler“)

“young homeless man beavis shooting up in the tenderloin.
he picks his scabs to find a good spot;
and tries a few locations before he gets a vein.
he has the “love” and “hate” tattos from “night of the hunter” on his fingers.
he’s showing “love” with his right hand as he sticks the needle in.” Rest of his story here.

This stuff is real, and most of us (including myself) live in our insulated reality where we don’t expose ourselves to this…or, if we see it on the news, we either look away quickly or flip the channel. Too uncomfortable. Might make our whining about money or cynicism pale in comparison to this man’s situation.So click away quickly. Wouldn’t want to upset your world (or mine).

Or stare and absorb. Reality isn’t easy, and demands a response.

So what’ll it be? Naive insulated existence (aka ignorance of reality)?
Or do we let the gospel drive us to weep on our knees for this man…and compel us to action in our world in the name of Jesus?

Thanks for the dose of reality, Aaron.

Walter B and the Goals we are calling each other to…

So I’m reading this book these days by Walter Brueggemann (isn’t that a sweet last name? I’m seriously considering changing my last name to Brueggemann. Ok, I’m not. But Belteshazzar’s always been an fun name to bounce around inside one’s head to change one’s name to as well, if I must confess. Plus, if you ever want your kid to get railed in the elementary school playground, name them one of those great Old Testament names: Mephibosheth, Sabachthani, or Zophar the Naamathite or something like that. Or, if you’re a real sadist, name your daughter Dorcas. She’ll never make it out of first grade alive. Seriously.) Moving on…

Brueggemann’s book quite obviously focuses on evangelism, which is an extremely live issue right now, considering that we hear about it a lot and most of us are averse to the methods in which it is typically defined. I mean, really, why is much of evangelism defined as door-to-door or parking lot accosting in the pattern of Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons? Don’t we hate it when we get visits from them? Then why in the heck do we think it’s any different when someone gets piled on like this at the entrance of his home? Oh, because we’re talking about Christ, and this is what we should be doing? Brueggemann will bust your thinking about evangelism out of this either/or mold right away; don’t let the chintzy cover fool you.

Anyways, returning back to one of the points of conversation with the fellow in my class from last week, Brueggemann makes an incredible point while talking about typical expectations of both boys and girls growing up in terms of stages of development and prevailing messages. Check this out.

“I suggest that the moral nurture of our children as it is concretely practiced tends to be excessively idealistic when they are young, and excessively calculating when they are older, but both the idealism and the calculation miss the main claims of anything like a (God-driven) ethic. It is our habit to teach only our very young the radical moral dimension of our faith, because we know they are powerless to enact any of that radicality. As soon as our young are old enough to enact (that) vision, we induct them into a quite different ethical practice of calculating pragmatism.” pg 110

This relates well, it seems to me, to the endgoal the church most often holds before those who claim the name of “Christians” of establishing a good moral foundation. When we’re kids, it’s vogue for adults to tell us we should love our enemies (and we immediately think of the playground bully) or share freely (b/c it’s only a peanut butter sandwich, or Fruit by the Foot), etc. But as we get older, we are taught to be more and more pragmatic, so eventually loving our enemies is replaced by a utilitarian concept of love (what’s best for the most people), and sharing freely means we should give to United Way some, and at least every other Sunday drop ten bucks in the offering plate. Because a good moral foundation is the goal, the radical commandments of Christ are dropped in favor of maintaining the status quo and allowing us to walk on the same path others in our society walk; and in the process, our lives speak no more than the Unitarian Universalist, or Bah’ai, or Buddhist down the street.

Brueggemann goes further;
“I suspect that traditionally, young women have been kept longer within the idealistic mode, but clearly that is because they were longer kept powerless to enact those claims in any significant way. It is clear that in conventional nurture and education, young men are given a sort of “rite of passage” into the cynical world of conflict and competition, and away from any visionary radicality. This is in part accomplished through athletics…By contrast…at the time when young men are being transposed away from radicalness into “realism,” young women are intentionally nurtured into domestication (withdrawal), and tilted away from anything that smacks of ethical radicalness, or anything else radical that touches the real world. As women gain access to real power, conversely, they are brought more fully and quickly into a practice of calculating pragmatism.” (same page)

The more I think about this issue and the lifestyle we hold up as the endgoal for the Christian life, more often than not I’m recognizing how much we’ve domesticated the gospel (or allowed the gospel to be domesticated incrementally without our knowing). Jesus’ life shouts from a mountaintop that this life is defined by a radical commitment to a lifestyle in the Way God is calling us to, but we mute those teachings b/c they “don’t make sense.” The Sermon on the Mount today is a disconnected batch of teachings that only have to do with something going on inside us as opposed to Jesus calling us to engage in practices of: radical forgiveness, radical love, radical faithfulness, radical pursuit of righteousness, radical sharing, etc etc. And in case we had any room to make the move we’ve made with these teachings, he hammers the point home in Matthew 7 at the end, saying, “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like the wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, but it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rains came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

I guess this is where I stand up on my soapbox and plead with those around me. When we’re sharing the truth of Christ in both our words and life, we cannot allow ourselves to settle for goals less than those we are commanded to set up as goals by God. A solid moral foundation will flow from a heart transformed by Christ, but our lives are meant to represent so much more! When we lose the radical nature of a life in the pattern of Christ, we’ve lost the core reality of what God is shaping us into as His people, and we’re essentially no different than Religion A, B, or C just down the street.

Somehow words from Jeremiah about cracked cisterns in a dry land are haunting me right now. Do we want the God of the Bible, the God of history, and a transformed people? Or would you and I rather settle for a deistic, disconnected God, a faith defined by an inner reality that doesn’t manifest itself outwardly, and other authorities having the ultimate claim on our lives? We’re faced with that choice every day.

Maybe some people will run for the exits when I talk of potential little Nates running around in the world, but I’m convinced my (future) kid needs to know from the very beginning how counter-cultural the lifestyle of a Christian should be, and how big the dreams of God are for his/her life. May we never settle for less than the best.

p.s. read the brueggemann book, if you value your life. :) ( but skip the first 60 pages, b/c they were so boring I seriously felt my life ebbing from my veins. Literally. Then come back after the last bit fires you up) It’ll change the way you think about evangelism.

What is "authentic" spirituality? And why such a following for Anne Lamott?

Ok, so I’ve been reading Anne Lamott’s book Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith here recently, which I’m assuming is supposed to be the rousing, critically acclaimed Traveling Mercies Jr that everyones raves about and gives their kid when they go off to college. I’m not impressed. Well, let me qualify that a little; Anne has some very insightful things to say about the reality of life. However, in terms of her thoughts on spirituality (in which her voice is considered “prophetic” by many), Anne strikes me as a relativist in search of meaning. Nothing more, nothing less.

To commence with the discussion going on inside my head (don’t be taken aback, I have these kinds of discussions with myself often. I hope that doesn’t mean I’m narcissistic; though open to suggestions I am)…

Anne has an uncanny ability to nail down the “blah” times that happen in all our lives and deal with them in an incredibly straightforward fashion. The glimpse she gives us into her interactions with her son are hilarious, and her willingness to be candid that she quite honestly can’t stand him sometimes are refreshing (They should be to her son, too…he’s now free to say, “Mom, I really don’t want to be around you right now because I want to be alone…plus, I feel like I really want to deck you right now, but I won’t because I love you too much…and Mom, give me a little leash here; it’s getting suffocating around here.”) If in every parent/child relationship, more freedom existed in conversation to unload emotions each carries in more of their initial stages(with limits, of course), I’d imagine you’d have a lot less roiling, messy stuff going on under the surface which ultimately explodes in nasty episodes and deep wounds. My father and I struggled deeply with this in my adolescence. As a result, I pushed him away for the duration of my college years (at least emotionally). Thankfully today I wouldn’t trade my relationship with my father for anything as we’re learning to be much more open with one another and trust one another more, which is leading to the willingness to be more vulnerable and share each other’s burdens.

Back to the original line of thought; you know what really bothers me? How everyone around me loooooooves writers that can be “spiritual” while swearing like a Navy sailor; and on top of that, hold them up as examples of an “authentic spirituality” we should all strive to be like. Honestly, I think that’s a load of horse pitooty. It bothers me greatly when folks like Tony Campolo and Stanley Hauerwas (two writers and followers of Christ whose writings have impacted me greatly) pop off and swear just to mix an audience up a little bit, be irreverant, and have those who always wanted to be irreverent swoon on their every word.

The classic one, if you’ll allow me to be a hypocrite for the sake of an example, was when Campolo was speaking, and this is what he said (paraphrasing).

“You know, the reality is that millions of people in Africa are starving and dying right now, and you don’t give a shit about it. And the worst thing is, you’re more upset about me saying shit than the people dying in Africa.”

Sooooooooo many people at seminary swoon over this phrase, and I hear it come out every two months or so. What’s the point? Why? Does it give us street cred? Do we feel like this is the pinnacle of spirituality; that we can spit out of our mouths anything we want, as long as we love Jesus? Lamott’s writing is chock full of f-bombs, s-bombs, and whatever other bombs you can think of, and the masses are applauding her to virtual popedom. I’m sorry, I don’t want to hold up traits like this as something to aspire towards. I don’t deny that Campolo, Hauerwas, and Lamott are trying to be provocative, but I have a newsflash for them. You don’t have to spit out certain words to make following Christ provocative…the gospel is inherently provocative. No, I’m not talking about the “Roman Road,” “Will you accept Jesus Christ as your PERSONAL Lord and Savior,” gospel that our culture says, “Meh” to. Not the domesticated Christianity that has dominated for 1,500 yrs now that has a prevailing message of love, yet adherents that are willing to kill you if the country labels you as “evil” or the “enemy.” Not the domesticated Christianity that enjoys an unholy marriage to the state; where instead of holding leaders accountable to Christ, we lower the goalposts enough that we can call leaders “Christians.”
No, the last time I checked, the gospel for the early church consisted of one core proclamation; “Trust and believe in Jesus Christ, whom God has made Lord and Messiah.”

Early Christians knew two key things regarding this proclamation:

1) There is no Lord but Jesus…if I am asked by the government of the state of which I am a part to carry out any action that runs counter to my commitment to Christ, that government can expect me to disobey that order. Whether they’ll kill me for it or not.

2) In order to believe in Jesus, you need to know what the life of Christ represented as an example here on earth in order to follow that example. So they relied on first-hand accounts, and collections of teachings and example of Jesus that circulated through the church and eventually turned into the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. More than anything else, the prevailing pictures of Jesus’ life were humility, servanthood, and a willingness to go to any lengths so that others would know their lives were valued and important to God, even to die for the sake of them knowing it (sacrificial love). The early church understood this. The church today (at least in the West); doesn’t.

Sometimes I am sickened, pessimistic, and cynical that the church here in America has any hope of being faithful. But then, if I open my eyes and focus beyond my cynicism at the prevailing message, I see more and more wonderful people around me who aren’t toeing the line of the status quo of what “Christianity” has become to live exemplary lives of radical love. Tom Fox is one of those, along with a few I could tick off that I see day-in, day-out who carry this same ideal. The Bible is ultimately a revolutionary document of a dream of God that his people would live without artificial barriers, share their lives with one another, and serve as an example of humility, servanthood, and boundless love to those around them. Now THAT’S love.

This is why I say openly to Lamott, Campolo, Hauerwas, and whoever else thinks it’s trendy to swear openly and without remorse for the sake of being provocative;
I’m disappointed that you couldn’t devote yourself to thinking deeper than you did for the sake of what you consider an ‘authentic’ spirituality. Hold yourself to a higher standard, because Christ does. And (more specifically for Campolo and Hauerwas), keep publishing your books like Adventures in Missing the Point and Resident Aliens that are deeply faithful and deeply provocative in all the right ways.

Resident Aliens called me out of the lackadaisical approach to following Christ I had to ask myself and others hard questions about faithfulness.

And to Lamott;
It’s time to leave the 60′s, where you and I could carry a surface spirituality, live and speak the way we wanted (often a contradicition to our stated spirituality), and have people laud us for it. The Hare Krishna movement is a joke, following Christ isn’t…you can go deeper than dropping the f-bomb. And please, please, work on the distrust of authority.

I guess I’m more disappointed than upset with the three aforementioned writers because I think they have such great potential, an audience that appreciates their perspective on life, and a commitment to boundless love for others. I just have the feeling that their words get in the way of their message; harming its impact. We need more folks like them, and someone to hold these folks accountable ultimately to Christ.

Now THAT’s off my chest. Feel free to shred me for taking this stance…I like a good, rousing conversation!

On pacifism and radical love…


I’ve been working through discussions with others regarding the life and witness of Tom Fox, the Christian Peacemaker Teams activist (a modern-day martyr) on a website I am a part of called theologyweb.com, and springing from that, I’ve had a rousing discussion with others on the site on the nature of pacifism and nonviolence, and the consistent witness of Christ to this pathway. I’m a pacifist, not because I think it’s common sense, but because Christ has called us as his followers to radical, forgiving

love. The early church’s willingness to walk this path is a tremendous example for us in this day and age (in America) where a commitment to Christ usually means a commitment UNLESS your life is threatened, or UNLESS it seriously disturbs the status quo of your life, or UNLESS it makes you less financially stable, etc. Tom Fox (who happened to live near me, and went to the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at the University where I am at seminary) exemplified this boundless love Jesus called us to that transcends the human bottom line.

Here’s the discussion thread I’ve been on the last several days…I go by GreatWhiteHype2 on this website.