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A World Without Nukes #2 – The End of The World and Beyond

Another reason to work toward a world free of nuclear weapons is that all Christians ultimately believe that a world of unbounded peace and unity will eventually be. This is an eschatological reasoning. Perhaps John Howard Yoder can best articulate this point, but suffice it to say this: There will be a day in the future in which the lion will lie down with the lamb. There will be a day of complete, undisturbed peace. As a follower of Jesus, both my instincts and my calling are to live as if that day is this day. I am called to live my life to honor this coming and peaceable Kingdom. I am summoned to live as though – as Jesus said – the Kingdom of God is near.

Jesus taught his disciples to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6.9ff). Prayer, as always, is not only a petition to God, but also a call to local, global and real action. To pray such a prayer involves my decision to side with God toward the in breaking of God’s Kingdom.

If Christian people know that a day is coming without not only war, but also without the threat of war, annihilation, fear, forceful coercion or terror, we are to actively engage the bringing about of that day.  In stark contrasts, a world in possession of over 20,000 nuclear weapons opposes the vision of God for the earth and the vision of God for His children. The simple fact that I can thoughtlessly or easily live in a world that is made, shaped, and formed by such deadly and dangerous weapons, without giving voice to a more peaceful vision for humanity suggests – to me at least – that I do not take the Lord’s Prayer seriously.  As I do when I give a cup of water in the name of Jesus, when I pray and petition world leaders to reduce and  eliminate nuclear weapons, I stand as a voice in this world calling out for the initiation of the next world.

I cannot imagine, therefore, that there will be nuclear weapons in heaven – as I cannot imagine rape, abuse and murder – so I must oppose them here. I cannot imagine that lasting, hopeful peace will be instituted by the threat or commencement of violence. It has not worked for past superpowers and it will not last for the nations now in possession of nuclear weapons. These weapons are icons of our bent to destruction rather than peace. This is an inclination that God, I suspect, wishes we did not have.

Scripture teaches us that only peace is eternal, and not “peace” at the tip of the sword, therefore, let us together step into eternity’s peace…today.

The Diversity Culture — an overstated review

This is my review of Matthew Raley’s “The Diversity Culture,” which was posted at Viral Bloggers.

I picked up Matthew Raley’s. “The Diversity Culture” with great anticipation. Raley is a pastor in my new neck-of-the-woods, dealing with the same social, cultural and spiritual challenges that I have, and the topic – Christian engagement with others – had lots of promise. Plus, it ‘s been a busy month, and if I were to review a book this month, I wanted it to be short, which “The Diversity Culture” is. The information I received regarding the author, projected him as a political and social conservative and the church is woefully short of these kind of men and woman who are engaged in meaningful dialogue with the irreducible Other – or at least are willing to write about it!

After giving Raley a solid read, I must confess I found his work to be a mixed bag. That’s not to say that “The Diversity Culture” is a poorly written or overflowing with poor ideas. Rather, Raley and I, while sharing a desire for similar outcomes, we come at interaction with the Other in some significantly different ways.

My task here is not to argue with Raley – that would be counterproductive, not to mention out-of-school. Raley has some significantly useful points and perspectives that more Christ-followers would be wise to incorporate. Therefore, I will simple lay out what I consider to be the good, the bad and the ugly and allow you to decide.

The Good

Raley’s best work surrounds his ability to give Christians a language and process for engaging the Other. This, I know, can be discombobulating to some, especially those that view increasing diversity in America as some kind of threat. Describing the stereotypical World War II man, Raley explains that he “knows who he is.” This kind of knowing is often – and I may be reaching here myself – unsettled by cultures and epistemologies that the World War II man doesn’t understand. If that is the case, then Raley is a great place to begin.

What’s more, Raley, gives a step-by-step guide to engagement – the perfect solution for those who don’t quite know what to do. Raley offers scripture, community, and testimony as a way forward. For some this will be a great challenge and Raley gives them glimmers of hope and thoughtful ways to engage. If you know someone who wants to interact with Others, yet is too uncomfortable to do so, then Raley is a good place to start.

What’s more, Raley committed works from a Biblical perspective. He is not attempting to create conversations by distancing himself or the church from the claims of scripture. He is not even advocating that we see the Biblical text in a new way. Rather he is attempting to bridge the divide, giving Christ-followers helpful ways to move the conversation along

The Bad

But what Raley does well is also the Achilles heal of “The Diversity Culture.” Admittedly, most of these critiques involve the first half of the book, which was difficult to get through. First, while reading “The Diversity Culture” I got the distinct sense that the Other is a problem to be dealt with, not a person to be loved. The books aim seems to be this: “How do we get the irreducible Other to think and act like typical American evangelical Christians?” This fact is embedded in the book’s title. The subtle suggestion is that there is a “diversity culture” that we need to learn to reach and teach – as if (1) we are not all a part, in some degree, of the same culture and (2) that other cultures out to acquiesce to “our” culture.

Raley’s bias is exposed in his exegesis of the Samaritan woman, whom he constructs as the necessary Other to be engaged. Looking at Jesus’ interaction with the woman, Raley offers their interaction with one another as a model for the church. Here’s the problem with that model: (1) Within this interaction, Jesus is socially and politically the superior. This necessarily effects the engagement. We must ask whether or not this kind of engagement is a proper equivalent. Do we want to use an image of superiority when engaging the other? Perhaps one of Jesus’ encounters with a social equal might be better.

As Raley writes, you get hints of this superiority in his descriptions of others, such as a New York Times reader or the lady at Café Siddhartha. Raley characterizations may come off to some as flippant stereotypes that may make some readers wonder whether or not he took the irreducible Other seriously as a person. Along with this, Raley offers a popular exegesis of the Samaritan woman that simply is extra-textual. Like many before him, Raley posits that the woman was divorced by her five previous husbands, which may be true but is not actually in the text. How might the reader engage the Samaritan woman if through the devastating blows which life sometimes deals, they discover that she is a five-time widow? Sounds extreme? Maybe. But it is no more or less explicit in the text than a five-time divorcee. Oddly, I happen to know a woman who is a three-time widow. Given the disparity in ages, which occurred in the marriages of antiquity, it’s not entirely far-fetched. Perhaps Jesus’ interaction with the woman is less concerned about sin and more with compassion – but now I’m rambling. At root, however, for Raley the Other seems to be less a person and more the object of a ministry designed less to convert from darkness to light and more to assimilate. But, (and I mean this sincerely) I may be woefully misreading him.

Second, because Raley switches back-and-forth between an imagined scene in a café, his own insights and Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman, his writing style seems herky-jerky, at times. Though not a major problem, there are points in which his argument is lost in transition.

It should be noted that Raley’s instincts get better as the book wears on, but it’s hard to give him an audience for that long. As a pastor desirous of conveying the message of the gospel, I respect Raley, and his desire to engage the Other in meaningful way. For that we can all be thankful.

A Life of Reading

Anti-Leadership

windowslivewriterleadershipvsmanagement-13209image-thumbIn his book, Tribes, Seth Godin makes these two statements: (1) “Management is about manipulating resources to get a known job done” and (2) “Leadership, on the other hand, is about creating change that you believe in.”

As I examined these statements from the early pages of Tribes, I realized that throughout my ministry training – both formal and informal – I was taught to manage, not lead. Not only that, but I was instructed in anti-leadership. I was shaped to be adept at strategies of how NOT to change anything, how NOT to innovate, in essence, how NOT to lead.

An oft-quoted piece of advice in this anti-leadership world is that when you are entering a new ministry context, you should spend at least a year massaging the status quo, never changing anything, and challenging as few practices as possible. I understand the root and genesis of this kind of thinking, and there is some wisdom there, but as I have lived it in three different ministry contexts and as I’ve seen other ministers enter into new contexts, I have seen how this thinking has and is leading to the stagnation and decline in my denominational tribe.

What’s more, throughout my ministry training I was taught incredible and deeply troubling truths about God, scripture and the purpose of the church. Invariably, a student would passionately question why our churches weren’t talking about these things. In response, someone would tell us how we had to be patient and take it slow. It is no wonder then that so many churches never mature, develop or grow.

If management is manipulating resources to get known outcomes then the very best a management-trained minister can do is keep a 200-member church a 200-member church! None of the very best and most healthy churches in my non-denominational tribe have grown significantly in the last 10 years.

None.

Zero. 

Nada.

One reason is obvious; our systems are set against innovation, change and growth. For some reason, we have come to believe that our churches should operate as they did 10, 20 and even 50 years ago. This is partly because our very identity is rooted in restoring something that was (1st century church), rather than becoming something that is not yet (the coming kingdom of God).  Clearly then, if your fundamental orientation is backward looking you never need leaders, only managers.  You don’t need men and woman with vision, only exegetes. You wouldn’t want to consider new approaches for new generations; you simply need to force younger people to appreciate what older people appreciate and when they don’t call them faithless. Regardless of how much time we spend talking and praying about evangelism, mission, missional ecclesiology, growth, formation or discipleship, our systems are stacked against ever doing any of them at best and diametrically opposed at worst. I know. I have seen this dynamic up close and personal.

So this is a call to leadership, for myself and for the good men and woman in ministry I have known over the years who still remain within our churches. It is time for us to lead! To look forward and create new pathways and initiate change people can believe in. If we do not, then our brand of churches may be looking at dark days ahead.

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POST-SCRIPT: (It’s important for me to say that I was taught scripture and ministry by extraordinarily faithful men and women, most of whom were taught – or trapped in – the same anti-leadership environs I was. I am eternally indebted to them for their teaching, ministries and gracious “A’s”.)

“Enough” by Will Samson, a review

This my review of Will Samson’s newest book, Enough: Contentment in An Age of Excess which I also posted over on Viral Bloggers.

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I’ve been speaking to my friends and anyone else who would listen lately about the lack of exegetical living in the contemporary American church. By it I mean that my lifestyle, and the lifestyles of most of the people I know in the American church does not resemble that which we see in the New Testament. We are rich, white (though I am not), and overly concerned – some might say, “obsessed” – with politics, power and control (at least in my humble opinion). All that to say, Will Samson’s newest book, Enough: Contentment in an Age of Excess is part of a necessary corrective the church needs.

Following in the vein of Justice in the Burbs, Samson, offers forth an argument for people of faith to ask difficult questions regarding excess, the Other and how much “stuff” is “enough stuff.”

It should be said at the outset, as a reader of Justice in the Burbs and as one who is and has friends connected to Christian involvement in social justice and emerging churches, I strongly agreed with Samson’s assessment of American Christianity. I found his diagnosis predominately correct and his suggestions useful. Unfortunately, I suspected I would before the book arrived in the mail for review. Therefore, I attempted to read the text as someone who would be either neutral or suspicious of Samson’s views.

Enough establishes two dominant goals for itself. First, Samson wants to reveal to us how deeply consumed we are with “stuff.” Indeed, “consumed” is the operative word throughout Enough. Secondly, Samson offers to call us to an alternative consumption: A vision of God and God’s work in the world.

The Major Problem:

Enough is divided into two sections. The first six chapters lend themselves to theological concerns, while chapters 7-10 present issues and suggested actions and attitudes to alleviate or relieve the before mentioned issues. As Samson clearly states, if you have a strong theological background or formal theological education you can skip the first section of the book, and I suggest you do.

The major deficit within Enough is that it is simply not convincing – at least in terms of convincing those who need convincing. Reading as a neutral, someone in need of convincing, I continually thought that I didn’t understand what the problem was/is. Samson’s work simply does not lay out the argument in ways wherein someone who did not care would be caused to care. It was not until chapter 7 that Samson states, “…we are consuming ourselves to death.”

As a pastor, I know many good people who are casualties of commerce, one-sided political listening, and American exceptionalism gone mad, that they simply see nothing wrong with our culture of excess. What’s more, when presented with an argument like Samson’s, they respond to it as “radical liberalism” or “radical social justice.” This issue of contentment and consumption is important enough that I wish the theological rationale was as weighty as the issue itself. Oftentimes, I felt Samson voiced a strong conclusion that his argument either could not or did not support.

Part of the unconvincing nature of the work is the overt, left-leaning political messages. Throughout Enough, Samson takes us on his own political journey from a political, social, and cultural conservative to someone who has rejected much of what he once held dear. I fear that many who would benefit from reading Enough, will be off-put by a tome that too often reads as a quasi-treatise on “How Christians Can Be Democrats.” This, ultimately, blunts Samson’s message. It becomes too easy to dismiss. Again, this is not necessarily a repudiation of Samson’s ideas, rather I offer a perspective on how more people may embrace contentment over consumption.

The Major Benefit:

However, there is far more positive than negative to say about Enough. It’s greatest strength is that Enough does not leave the reader in the abyss of ideas. Samson furnishes some real, reasonable, and workable solutions to finding contentment.

First, Samson highlights the importance of the Eucharist as a lens in which we view the Other and what it means to live at table with others. This image alone should reshape much of what happens in the American church. Using the Eucharist as way of life has endless implications. Samson could have massaged and developed that metaphor alone and Enough would be well worth the sticker price.

Second, throughout Enough, Samson drops thought-bombs that prompt the reader to set the book aside and think about the repercussions.  Such lines include the following: “There is a big difference between being pro-life and pro-birth,” and “…without government spending, companies such as Amazon or Google would not exist.” Here Samson puts many of our assumptions under the microscope and reveals our forked-tongued lifestyles and rhetoric.

Third, Enough places lifestyle over think-style as the major conversion from carnality to Christianity. It have an inclination that many of the young people in my faith-community and the larger community where I live would be easily won to the vision of Christianity outlined by Samson. It is both compelling and, at times, inspiring in terms of the what the world would be like if more Christians were drawn into Samson’s portrait of the Kingdom of God.

Fourth, the concluding chapters of Enough are choc-full of realistic, helpful suggestions for moving away from consumption. This is truly what people need. In fact, if someone does not need convincing, the last six chapters will serve as a valuable “how-to” that should be kept near your day-planner in order to check in monthly and ensure you are moving toward goals of repair and sustainability.

Conclusion:

Book reviews should answer one question: Should I buy this book? In the case of Enough, the answer is an adament “maybe.” It’s just hard for me to suggest making a purchase when we’re discussing consumption. I am one of those people who have read and own enough books for any two or three people, and often I purchase books I can’t possible read in a timely fashion. Currently, I have 5 books on my “to-read” list. For me, reading and books are a problem of consumption. I consume ideas and the articles, books and blogs that contain them.

At the same time, I know that books are the best way to disseminate information, and the information Samson sketches needs to get out. So the decision is ultimately yours. I will say this though; the ideas argued in Enough are good and worthy of integration. Shop wisely….

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