26 February 2015

N. T. Wright and “The Way of the Wilderness”

way of pilgrimageI came across this meditation by N. T. Wright, based on his book The Way of the Lord: Christian Pilgrimage Today ( N. T. Wright, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co

The wilderness comes in many shapes and sizes, just as the deserts of Judaea and Sinai are by no means uniform. I used to think of deserts as simply miles and miles of flat sands, punctuated by the odd oasis; but the wilderness that surrounds the Promised Land comes in many forms. There are huge crags, like Masada, the last bastion of the revolutionaries after the fall of Jerusalem, an enormous barren rock to the south-west of the Dead Sea. There are gullies and crevasses, great rocky outcrops and hidden valleys. Walk a mile or two off the road and you could get lost quite easily.

The wilderness of the spiritual journey is much like that. For some, it is simply a sense that everything has gone very dry. There is no delight in prayer or reading the scriptures. Going to church has become boring and futile. The sacraments seem a pointless ritual. Where before there was a sense of God’s presence as a loving parent, gently nursing and guiding, or of the wise prompting of the Holy Spirit, there now seems to be a great emptiness. The story of Jesus, once so full of interest and stimulation, the scrap-book of the life of a new best friend, seems dull, and even the story of the cross and resurrection has apparently lost its power to sweep the heart. This is the common experience of many, many Christians at some stage in their pilgrimage. Tragically, some at once conclude that what happened at the Jordan was all a delusion, a passing phase, that there really is no Jerusalem to go on to. Others wander blindly without hope, and stumble by accident — or was it an accident? — back on to the right path. But the way of Christian maturity is to recognize the desert path for what it is — another mile on the road called ‘Faithfulness’ — and to tread it with obedience and patience:

24 February 2015

On the Road to Easter

clip_image002Mark 8:27–30 (GNB)

27 Then Jesus and his disciples went away to the villages near Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Tell me, who do people say I am?” 28 “Some say that you are John the Baptist,” they answered; “others say that you are Elijah, while others say that you are one of the prophets.” 29 “What about you?” he asked them. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” 30 Then Jesus ordered them, “Do not tell anyone about me.”

Ash Wednesday was celebrated last week, which traditionally marks the beginning of the Lenten season, the 40 days to Easter and the Passion of the Christ. Often times Protestant do not participate in the ceremony, and they do not usually contemplate the meaning of the event.

The aim of Ash Wednesday is said to be threefold:

  • to meditate on our mortality, sinfulness, and need for a savior;
  • to renew our commitment to daily repentance in all of life;
  • and to remember with confidence and gratitude that Jesus has conquered sin and death.

Our daily worship should be filled with the impact of this gospel truth. In order to truly understand and appreciate the impact of these three statements above, we have to start by answering the question that Jesus posed to Peter: “Who do you say I am?” If we can answer whole heartedly to Jesus, as Peter did, “you are the Messiah,” we can then rejoice with the Apostle Paul when he says,

“Consider yourself dead to sin and alive in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11).

To Reflect:

Spend some time being still before God, and ask the Spirit to search yourself:

Psalm 139:23–24 (GNB)

23 Examine me, O God, and know my mind; test me, and discover my thoughts. 24 Find out if there is any evil in me and guide me in the everlasting way.

Picture Credit: The White Crucifixion by Marc Chagall, 1938

22 August 2014

Ferguson Police interview the witnesses

Tthis video has come to light of Ferguson police interviewing witnesses to the shooting of Michael Brown.

14 August 2014

How to Ask?

amanda-palmer-2First, I suggest you watch this TED talk by Amanda Palmer. I did not know who she was (still don’t, really) --she is part of a Band called Dresden Dolls.

Her music is interesting, but not necessarily my cup of tea. I don’t endorse many of her beliefs or lifestyle (some of it will raise eyebrows): Such as, in one of her videos she walks up to a girl who is reading a bible, takes it away from her and tosses it over her shoulder; or in another video, she sings about getting an abortion (complete with coat hanger metaphor and some mockery of pro-life Christians).  There is no doubt she is a very creative person. But this post is not about the content of her music, videos or lifestyle.

But what she talks about in this video is important.

How to relate

For example, she says this in the video:

“I wrote the songs, and eventually we started making enough money that I could quit being a statue, and as we started touring, I really didn't want to lose this sense of direct connection with people, because I loved it. So after all of our shows, we would sign autographs and hug fans and hang out and talk to people.”

Ouch! That pushes me outside my comfort zone.

I wonder how much we think about the idea of a direct connection with people? The very essence of the Christian faith, if you read enough of Paul and the gospels, is connection. Isn’t the basic image of the church that of a body? Think 1 Corinthians 12 and 14.


But read on to see how she acts to connect with others. She reaches out over twitter and other social media, she will connect with people who will let her “couch surf” in the home, things like that. While the actual events are important, it does imply openness to others and a certain amount of vulnerability.

It also implies a certain amount of asking and giving. She will ask for help with different things, and her fans reply overwhelmingly. She has come to rely on her fans in many ways, which amounts to interdependence. There is almost a symbiotic relationship between her and her fans.


Yes, asking.

“And the media asked, "Amanda, the music business is tanking and you encourage piracy. How did you make all these people pay for music?" And the real answer is, I didn't make them. I asked them. And through the very act of asking people, I'd connected with them, and when you connect with them, people want to help you. It's kind of counterintuitive for a lot of artists. They don't want to ask for things.But it's not easy. It's not easy to ask. And a lot of artists have a problem with this. Asking makes you vulnerable.”

This is really counterintuitive. Asking makes you vulnerable, which is not what we in the west are about. We are about control, power, positioning, et al. But again, read some Paul or one of the gospels. You see a different picture. One of the most counterintuitive words of Jesus is “The son of man did not come to be served, but to serve.”

Seeing Each Other

“And I think when we really see each other, we want to help each other.”

So, a idea to end with is all about “seeing each other.” I think there are some good ideas here, ideas that we as followers of Christ shouldn’t have to be reminded of.

Now What?

One idea that I continually confronted with comes from a friend who strongly dislikes the basic fundamentalism she encounters in so many churches. To her (correctly), the Christian faith is about transformation, not changing behavior. But too many of the sermons she encounters are more about Stop doing that and start doing this! and less about depending on grace.

What would happen if we took an interest in someone and ASKED them how they were, and kept asking questions instead of giving them a four step plan to happiness and productivity? We are not the dispenser of grace, but we can be the conduit.

So, how do we reach out to others? How can we choose to be vulnerable, open and interdependent with others?

If someone outside the church can get these basic principles, why can’t we?

What do you think? 

31 July 2014

The “New Colossus” Revise and Updated

StatueOfLiberty"The New Colossus" is a sonnet by American poet Emma Lazarus (1849–87), written in 1883. In 1903, the poem was engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted inside the lower level of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.

Paul Auster wrote that "Bartholdi's gigantic effigy was originally intended as a monument to the principles of international republicanism, but 'The New Colossus' reinvented the statue's purpose, turning Liberty into a welcoming mother, a symbol of hope to the outcasts and downtrodden of the world"

"New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Okay, so I did my own revision of the poem, based on the continual stream of news coming out of the US.

SOL-tea party"New Colossus" (revised and updated)
Like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates stands
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exclusion. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide scrutiny; her fierce eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Don’t give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
Keep the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
I will send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed back,
I lift my lamp beside the closed golden door!"

What pains me is the Scriptures are fairly clear on this issue, but the culture and ethos of that culture have shaped the conversation into a political maelstrom. For example:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8

God is looking for three things:

  • Act justly
  • Love mercy
  • Walk humbly with your God

What happens when the culture emphasizes one over the others? Imbalance. We arrive in the end at something else determining how to interpret and live out these scriptures. In this case, when the emphasis is on Justice at the expense of mercy, you create a place where patriotism and nationalism pre-determine how to interpret scripture.

So, now what?


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06 May 2014

Women of God: MARY, MOTHER OF JESUS Luke 1

virgin_maryGod was about to break into the world in human flesh. His plan included working through the life of a teenage girl. It is interesting that in a patriarchal society, the angel visited Mary first. He did not visit Joseph first to get his permission. He did not discuss God's plan with Joseph and ask if he was willing to go along with it. Nor did Mary put the angel's message on hold and go to ask Joseph what she should do before responding.

Mary did not need to get Joseph's permission or submit to his authority. She had God's word, God's authority. That was enough for her. Mary was willing to submit to God's will with or without Joseph. She had no idea what Joseph's response would be. She had no idea what he would do. The decision was hers and hers alone to make. She was called on by God to do his work and she willingly submitted. She was willing to face the humiliation, ridicule, and rejection of pregnancy before marriage — alone if need be.

That does not mean that Mary did not need Joseph. She needed Joseph's love, his support, his understanding, his willingness to serve God alongside her, his partnership, his protection in a patriarchal society. She needed him to walk the journey with her. But, when she responded with a resounding yes to the angel, she did not have the assurance that Joseph would stand with her when she accepted God's call on her life. But, she did not need his permission to do what God called her to do. Joseph was told after the fact, and he willingly submitted to God's call on Mary's life. He stood with her, supported her, and encouraged her. Joseph was Mary's "ezer kenegdo" — her "suitable helper." --dona

01 April 2014

Equal, But…??

spy v spyI keep encountering articles from various perspectives on the role of women in the church. What is sad is that the perspective for one of the adherents is not, "we agree to disagree," but, "you're wrong and therefore you are (at least) a heretic. So sad.

My personal perspective is that the complementarian view does a great disservice to a large part of the body of Christ –Women in Christ. I believe that complementarians often represent a misunderstanding of what a text says.

So many of their articles are a Procrustean bed of interpretation, allowing a theological premise to pre-interpret a text without really struggling with the context and to see what it actually says. But I’m not going to go into the morass of interpretation to try to refute and correct this thinking. But let me share a few thoughts:

1. Both perspectives argue that they know exactly what God is trying to tell us through the various scriptures. But it still comes down to human understanding. When you take your stand on a position, are you certain that you are not guilty of two things?

  • Am I quenching the Spirit? If the Spirit is bringing this topic to the surface, and we shout it down with our interpretation, what are the implications for this? I, for one, would not want to be guilty of quenching the work of the Spirit.
  • Am I in danger of Blaspheming the Spirit? If I accuse my opponents of disobeying God (and what that implies), and it IS the work of the Spirit to show God’s will, am I saying that the work of the Spirit is not the work of the Spirit? Jesus was pretty specific on what that all means.

2. Do we really understand the historical context of a passage? To say that “it is in the bible, and therefore it true for all for all times” can raise havoc with our understanding of what a text says. Paul’s letters are that, letters written to a specific audience for a specific purpose. There are plenty of passages in the Pentateuch that give lie to the point of view that its true for all for all of time. If it is true for all time, why don’t we kill the ox that gores a neighbor after the owner was warned that it was dangerous? Or, why don’t women go outside of town for seven days when they experience their menstrual cycle? But you say, “well, that was the law, we are under grace.” Then what do we do with the Ten commandments? That was Law as well. We can’t pick and choose what we want to obey. I would never think of jumping into a discussion with someone without trying to understand the context and background of the conversation –and believe me, I’ve done it and made a fool of myself.

3. What is the REAL principle being taught in a passage? I once took a class on building codes when I was a property manager in the US. I remember that the instructor said that building codes, whether electrical, plumbing, etc., are the MINIMUM standard for safety, not a standard for excellence. I see much of what is said by Jesus and the NT authors falling into this category. If Paul is laying out a principle for a specific situation in a specific time and place, why should we think that this is the standard for all people in all places and all times? Why do we think that this is the highest standard of faith and expression of God’s will? We have no trouble saying that women wearing head coverings in church was for the church in Corinth at the time, but to spiritualize this concept and make it a standard for all to follow and for women to be properly submitted to their husbands/men/et. al. does violence to the text.

4. Remember, Just because Scripture is inspired and inerrant does not mean that your interpretation is as well. Look at the battles over justification and interpretation of Scripture during the reformation. Not only was there a divide between the Reformers and the Roman Catholics, there were also divisions between the Reformers themselves. At one time Calvin and Luther both called for the suppression of the Anabaptists, imprisoning and executing many of its adherents. Have we convicted and passed judgment on any Anabaptists lately?

5. God is not using sinners (women who desire a greater role in the Body of Christ) to shame the men because they have abdicated their roles somehow. Remember, the Sadducees, the priests and the scribes? They believed that the Temple in Jerusalem was God’s ultimate expression of his will. When he chose to have his temple on earth through Jesus Christ and then in the body of Christ, they missed the point and the boat, so to speak. Their theology was severely trumped by God’s action in Christ and as a result they were by-passed and suffered the destruction of the Temple complex in Jerusalem.

And if you are going to “cherry pick” subjects to defend and interpret, why pick just this one? The scriptures have a lot to say about gossip and slander, but if we see someone doing it, we don’t condemn them as a heretic and outside the will of God. Be careful what you wish for.

A final thought. Since so many of the passages lend themselves to different interpretations, perhaps we should take that as an admonition to go slowly and grant a lot of grace?

And if someone is seeking to find the will of God and serve him, should we stand in their way and condemn them for it? (see #1 above)