A Wonderful Plan

March 11th, 2019

Anyone remember the evangelism trope, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life?” I’ll be honest, I don’t know if this is coming from the snarky part of me or not, but I was thinking that a better presentation would be “God loves you and wants to kill you…  and raise you up in his Son, and outside of that all your plans are going to perish!”

Should I start making some tracts???

Grace to Be His

February 5th, 2019

The purpose of grace is to not make you better but to make you His. A person who is a wretch but who rushes to meet God in his wretchedness is far better than a “righteous” person who manages well enough without God. We were made for intimacy, not for righteousness. Righteousness matters, but as the fruit of intimacy, for through the cross God has embraced our wretchedness and made it the path by which we come to intimately know his gracious work meeting us in the broken, twisted, and resistant contours of our soul. It seems to me that inverting the relationship of intimacy and righteousness is the root problem of religion, and the essence of much that impairs the Church’s witness and ministry to the world.

What Are Evangelicals Afraid of Losing?

September 10th, 2018

To my beloved brothers and sisters who voted for Trump, and to those who can’t imagine why anyone would, I invite you to read this heart-searching article. In the hopes of enticing you, I offer the following highlights…
  • If an election can cause us to lose everything, what is it exactly that we have in the first place?
  • It’s not when we’re fed to lions that we lose everything; it’s when we preach another gospel.
  • And yet, [in] swinging from triumphalism to seething despair, many pastors are conveying to the wider, watching public a faith in political power that stands in sharp opposition to everything we say we believe in.
  • Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and a long period afterward that would be marked simultaneously by persecution and expansion of his kingdom. How? Armed with nothing more than his gospel, baptism, and the Supper, fueled by the freedom of grace and love of all people, the low and the high, who need to hear this saving message.
For my brief take, I have long been concerned that many of my brothers and sisters seem to uncritically rejoice over the fact that “we have a man in office” who is going to preserve religious rights, and who is going to install judges that will favor a conservative social agenda, and yet in the process we’ve made concessions that deeply undermines our vision regarding what it is to be truly and fully human, and have compromised our capacity to share the Gospel with integrity. To clarify where I’m coming from with respect to the broad umbrella of Christianity, many of you know that I don’t typically refer to myself as Evangelical, and tend to adopt the label “orthodox,” but that said, I do have many convictions that align with historic Evangelicalism. Regarding politics, I am registered as an Independent, and my voting over the years has reflected this. Moreover, during this past presidential season I didn’t vote for either Trump or Clinton. You can chalk this up to whatever fault you want on my part, but when I got to the voting booth I was overwhelmed with a sense of despair about both candidates, and honestly, the whole of our political system and culture. In many ways this season has made it clear that I am a resident alien in America, for I am quite convinced that Jesus’ Kingdom is not of this world. I am equally convinced, however, that this conviction doesn’t allow me to escape or retreat from the world, for though Christ’s Kingdom is not of the world, it is certainly for the world. In this spirit, one of the ways I try to engage the culture is through conversations in my small sphere of influence, conversations for which this article can be a catalyst.

Read, heed, and be enlightened…

What Are Evangelicals Afraid of Losing?

 

Across The Divide

June 4th, 2018

Recently the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. As I’ve read a few articles across the political spectrum it seems clear to me that this decision is not definitive regarding issues related to Freedom of Religion and LGBT rights. Instead, the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of this particular man and the particular circumstances surrounding his decision, as well as decisions made in the lower court. There are still a number of battles before us that will hopefully force our nation to think deeply about a whole host of interrelated issues.

In reading these articles, I was reminded of similar case wherein a lady baker was sued by a gay couple for likewise refusing to do their wedding cake. In that instance this lady had an ongoing relationship with the couple, and made them cakes for various occasions, but she could not in good conscience do their wedding cake because of her religious convictions regarding the nature of marriage. In that instance, it seemed to me that this lady did not have animus toward the couple, was genuinely friends with them, or at lest genuinely friendly, and was willing to affirm them as individuals, having made cakes for birthdays and other events that celebrated accomplishments. However, her affirmation fell short of contributing to their wedding, which for many Christians is a religious rite, even a sacrament. It seemed to me that this lady embodied a gospel tension in that she apparently had a genuine relationship with the couple, affirmed them as persons, but she did not affirm their understanding of marriage, nor did she affirm their identity as centrally and primarily determined by their same-sex orientation. As I look at this lady’s case I see an example about how we might process this issue of prejudice and civil rights.

If this lady had refused service to this couple merely because they were gay, it would seem quite clear that this lady is violating civil rights and thus civil action against her is warranted. However, this lady did not refuse such service. Instead, she specifically refused to make a cake for their wedding for although she did not reject them as persons, she does reject their understanding of the nature of marriage. Of course, one could argue that her response is a form of prejudice, but likewise, one could argue that her response is not about refusing to acknowledge the full personhood of another, but rather about how certain institutions in our culture are shaped and defined. As I indicated above, how we understand her response is going to be determined by underlying presuppositions that rarely surface in our cultural debate about this matter.

I presented the above lady’s actions as exemplary, as well as a case that can help us draw a line between civil rights abuse and free exercise of religion. Of course my assessment of this lady’s case is shaped by a set of presuppositions that a number of my readers don’t subscribe to. I make this point, because as I have mulled over this issue, and what the recent Supreme Court decision indicates, it seems to me that we, as a nation, are going to have to engage in some serious thinking about the following issues: the nature of persons, the nature of sexuality, the foundation of human dignity, and the nature of rights and how seemingly competing rights can be coordinated for the ordering of society. In this thinking endeavor, we are going to have to likewise address the nature of legitimate authority as this hits upon what sources we can draw upon to answer questions related to the different areas of inquiry I just mentioned. And guess what, the issue of legitimate authority is foundational and presuppositional. It is deep, in fact all of this is deep and complex, and it doesn’t readily lend itself to being processed through media soundbites, social media memes, and the limited format of the evening news. Yes, there are people across the spectrum who are thinking deeply, and with appropriate complexity, but I don’t think they dominate our culture’s discourse about this issue.

Of course, we can always just continue on our current general course of flattening what is deep, narrowing what is wide, creating a caricature of our interlocutors, and slinging sh*t across the divide.

On Fig Leaves

May 25th, 2018

Is Morality the fig leaves of the fallen?

Ash Wednesday

February 14th, 2018

On this Ash Wednesday, this first day of Lent, I offer this aphorism…

Desire without meaning nor the hope of fulfillment is the substance of Hell.

It is my hope this Lenten season to know hunger, to experience the hunger of Jesus in the hunger of the poor. It is my hope to cast off cynicism and push through my fear of emptiness, deprivation, and abandonment and find Jesus in inconsolable longing. It is my desire that my desires would change from a paltry reach for mud and a puddle to a persistent longing that moves my feet toward endless beaches on an infinite sea.

Remember, O man, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.

Naked & Unashamed

May 25th, 2017

The Earth has made a complete revolution around the Sun since my last post, and coincidentally (or not) I was inspired today to break my long silence by offering this brief prayer.

Cover me
Clothe me
in your righteousness
until your clothing
becomes my skin
and like Adam
I am free
to walk naked
and unashamed

C.S. Lewis On the Threshold of a Mystery

May 25th, 2016

The following is the meditation I gave during this past Sunday’s Evensong service.

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This is the beginning of a new series I am introducing for our time of meditation called, They Still Speak, where the meditation I offer will be primarily comprised of a voice from the past whose living faith still speaks to us today. My first voice for this series is from beloved author and lay theologian C.S. Lewis. What follows are a few words from Lewis on the Trinity, in which he does a remarkable job of following Saint Anselm’s motto regarding faith seeking understanding, which is basically a call for believers to explore the realities they confess in hopes of deepening their love and devotion to God. About the Trinity Lewis states,

You know that in space you can move in three ways – to left or right, backwards or forwards, up or down. Every direction is either one of these three or a compromise between them. They are called the three Dimensions. Now notice this. If you are using only one dimension, you could draw only a straight line. If you are using two, you could draw a figure: say, a square. And a square is made up of four straight lines. Now a step further. If you have three dimensions, you can then build what we call a solid body: say, a cube – a thing like a dice or a lump of sugar. And a cube is made up of six squares.

Do you see the point? A world of one dimension would be a straight line. In a two-dimensional world, you still get straight lines, but many lines make one figure. In a three-dimensional world, you still get figures but many figures make one solid body. In other words, as you advance to more real and more complicated levels, you do not leave behind you the things you found on the simpler levels: you still have them, but combined in new ways – in ways you could not imagine if you knew only the simpler levels.

Now the Christian account of God involves just the same principle. The human level is a simple and rather empty level. On the human level one person is one being, and any two persons are two separate beings – just as, in two dimensions (say on a flat sheet of paper) one square is one figure, and any two squares are two separate figures. On the Divine level you still find personalities; but up there you find them combined in new ways which we, who do not live on that level, cannot imagine. In God’s dimension, so to speak, you find a being who is three Persons while remaining one Being, just as a cube is six squares while remaining one cube. Of course we cannot fully conceive a Being like that: just as, if we were so made that we perceived only two dimensions in space we could never properly imagine a cube. But we can get a sort of faint notion of it. And when we do, we are then, for the first time in our lives, getting some positive idea, however faint, of something super-personal – something more than a person. It is something we could never have guessed, and yet, once we have been told, one almost feels one ought to have been able to guess it because it fits in so well with all the things we know already.

Though this explanation from Lewis is mildly heady, it is capable of inspiring devotion because it brings us to the threshold of a mystery, or better still, to the threshold of The Mystery: the nature of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Lewis’s explanation gives an orientation to this mystery in that we come to realize the limits of our understanding, that we are mere three-dimensional creatures trying to make sense of a multi-dimensional, perhaps infinitely dimensional Creator, and we do so with the resources of our three-dimensional imaginations. The other way Lewis’ illustration inspires devotion, is that it prompts us to consider that there are realities we participate in, about which we are only vaguely aware. Again, drawing from Lewis, the one dimensional line participates in the formation of two-dimensional figures, which participates in three-dimensional bodies. Applying this illustration to our lives, we are forced to consider the fact that our desires, decisions, and actions are influenced by, participate in, and affect realities beyond our immediate awareness, for we are attuned to three-dimensional reality, and thus we assess our lives and actions primarily within the confines of this dimension. Accepting Lewis’ illustration enables us entertain the idea that perhaps even our most mundane decisions and actions have greater significance than we typically ascribe to them.

Having said all this about the mystery of the Trinity, I want to be clear from a Christian perspective, that mysteries are not primarily problems for us to solve, or riddles that beckon our explanation in the hopes of gaining better understanding. Rather, a mystery is a reality that calls us to intimacy and close proximity. It is a reality that is best understood, perhaps only understood, by entering in. This bears witness to the fact that the deepest truths are only known through love. The beloved disciple John once made this simple, yet deep confession, “God is love.” The mystery of the Trinity brings clarity to this confession because it demonstrates that the one God is an eternal, loving relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Likewise, the mystery of the Trinity gives shape and purpose to our lives as Christians, for through this confession of who God is, we understand that the Gospel is essentially the good news that we were created and redeemed to enter into the very relationship that is God. There is no other reason for our existence, and everything we do as Christians participates in this reality that is God. May it be that through faith perfecting itself in love, we may more deeply enter into the mystery of the Trinity, that our entire lives become a living witness to John’s bold confession that God is love.

Why A Friend Is Suing Me

May 4th, 2016

I’ve read about incidents like the one expressed in the article I linked below, and I’ve resisted sharing them or participating in the brouhaha that surrounds such issues and events, because I don’t like getting near the vitriol that too often attends how people engage and process issues related to sex, gender, and identity politics. All this said, I am sharing this because I am disturbed by what appears to be an absolutist tendency on the part of those who support same sex marriage.

According to the article (which at the moment I am taking at face value) this lady had an ongoing relationship with this gentlemen that was both professional and friendly. Nevertheless, because she couldn’t endorse his marriage, by providing her services, she has been subjected to both a lawsuit, and, according to another source, some degree of harassment. Regarding the absolutist tendency I mentioned, it seems that those who support same sex marriage will not allow any reservation from others. This lady did not withhold professional services nor friendship from this man because he is homosexual, yet she is not allowed this area of reservation, which is rooted in her religious beliefs about sexuality and marriage. This seems absolutist because when it comes to homosexuality there are no degrees or nuances allowed in how one might respond to this issue.

Wrapping up this brief post, I want to finish by saying I realize that sexuality is a complex issue, as is biblical hermeneutics, and the relationship between religious conviction, politics and the public life, but I am disturbed because in the broader culture’s response to all of these matters I am seeing an absolutism that will not countenance complexity, and neither will it allow for any measure of reservation.

*******

Why A Friend Is Suing Me

Templing In Jesus’ Word

May 3rd, 2016

The following is my reflection from this past Sunday’s Evensong service.

*******

Hear these words from Brother Lawrence, a 17th century monk whose sage words on the spiritual life posthumously became a book titled The Practice of the Presence of God:

He does not ask much of us, merely a thought of Him from time to time, a little act of adoration, sometimes to ask for His grace, sometimes to offer Him your sufferings, at other times to thank Him for the graces, past and present, He has bestowed on you, in the midst of your troubles to take solace in Him as often as you can. Lift up your heart to Him during your meals and in company; the least little remembrance will always be the most pleasing to Him. One need not cry out very loudly; He is nearer to us than we think.

In these words, Lawrence has given us many ways we can remind ourselves of God’s presence, but at the heart of all his practical advice are these words, “He is nearer to us than we think.”

Likewise, the heart of today’s reflection is the grand metaphysical claim that God is with us, “is nearer to us than we think.” In today’s lectionary in Joel, we hear of a time when God’s presence will always be with Israel, and by his presence Israel will be kept from shame. In the reading from Acts we hear how the people of Lystra had come to believe that the god’s had come to be with them in the persons of Paul and Barnabas, and though they we wrong, their belief about Paul and Barnabas expressed a legitimate longing: that God should live with humanity. In the Psalms it is proclaimed that the nations will know of God’s saving work, a knowledge that can only happen when God is present. And now, turning to today’s Gospel reading we will also see that the presence of God is the backdrop of this passage.

Today’s Gospel is essentially Jesus’ response to a disciple who asked him, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” As is often the case with Jesus, his response seemed to dodge the question, and if I was that disciple I would have been thinking, “Hold on, I didn’t ask you ‘How will you know I love you?’ I asked you, ‘How will you reveal yourself to me?’” As is also often the case, upon further inspection we find that Jesus was responding to the question, but not in a manner that we expect.

Before I continue, I want to share that when I first read this passage I was disturbed by how Jesus response connected a disciple’s love to a disciple’s keeping of Jesus word, and to compound the matter he further connected the love of the Father to a disciple’s keeping of Jesus’ word. In short, these series of connections induced anxiety, and seemed to me like an aweful invitation to somehow prove myself, and perform for the Father’s love. So, in response, I cried out, and I let my anxiety be known. I prayed, read commentaries, and wrote, and I prayed and wrote some more, as I have come to find that often when I write clarity happens.

As I said, in Jesus’ response to the disciple’s question, he made a connection between love and keeping Jesus’ word, but as I have come to see it, this keeping is not so much a disciple’s efforts hang on to Jesus’ words, or worse, live up to them, but rather to live within them. In other words, Jesus is saying that the one who abides in his word is the one who loves him. This idea is reinforced when Jesus states that he and the Father will abide with those who keep Jesus’ word. In this passage it seems that the author, John, is developing his meaning through the use of a parallel. On the one hand those who abide in Jesus’ word are the ones who love him, and on the other hand those who abide in Jesus’ word are the ones with whom Jesus and the Father will abide. The word “abiding” has the connotation of a place in which one remains, and in which one becomes familiar: relationally intimate. Given the original audience, this word “abide” is important, as it would have evoked the Temple, the dwelling place of God. So, perhaps what Jesus is saying here is that those who love him will temple themselves in his word, and they will temple themselves in his word because they will find his word to be a temple of God’s presence where they come to know the life and love of God.

At this point in my reflection, you may have noticed that I have not yet mentioned the passage from Revelation. I did this because of all the passages this passage is the clear climax of today’s lectionary. Prior to the verses we read today, an angel takes John to see the Bride of Christ, who is none less than the heavenly Jerusalem, where, as we see in the passages we did read, there is no temple for the presence of the Lord will be the temple, and the glory of his presence will be light of the Bride, the heavenly Jerusalem. In the overarching narrative of Scripture, the thing to realize about this heavenly Jerusalem and the presence of God, is that it is a reality we come to participate in now. Moreover, as John makes clear in many ways, the glory of God, which is the light of God’s people, is the Lamb crucified. The glory of God is God sacrificially pouring himself out through the Son to become the very light and life of his people. It is this self-sacrificing, out-pouring glory that animates the Word of Christ in which we abide, and why we are called to temple in his words.