Month: November 2006

Taxi, Taxi, Taxi …

When Tommie turned 16 I went through a bit of a personal battle. One of the privileges I enjoyed was taking my girls where they needed to go. You could call it some good "Daddy-Daughter Time." After a balmy few days we are under a "Winter Storm Warning." Snow covers the ground. Ice lies beneath. Schools were closed. Last night our oldest called and reserved a "Taxi." That’s right I was back in business. She had to go into work and her husband waited word on whether he would have to make the drive in another direction. Glad to have an occasion to be reminded of those times and share new ones. Will look forward to the next call …

Why Publicize Darfur? …

Since our participation in Darfur Action Sunday two weeks ago I have had a few conversations wondering about our interest and suggested involvement. One question revolved around whether or not we are encouraging military action. We are not encouraging military action as a first resort and would only suggest something of a UN Peace Keeping presence in order to put an end to the atrocities being committed at the hands of both the government and the government allied militias. For example in the November 25 edition of The Daily Oklahoman the following was offered under "World Briefs",

Attack in Darfur called ‘deliberate
GENEVA – An assault on the town of Sirba in Sudan’s Darfur region earlier this month apparently was "a deliberate and unprovoked attack" by government forces against innocent civilians, a U.N. human rights official said Friday.
  "Hundreds of armed men, many in military uniforms and some in civilian clothes, on horses, camels and in several trucks and Toyota Land Cruisers, attacked the civilian population," said Praveen Randhawa, a spokeswoman for the United Nations’ high commissioner for human rights.
  The African Union had said previously that the Nov. 11 attack was a raid on a refugee camp and neighboring villages by government-allied militiamen known as janjaweed.

In another post I noted the "60 Minutes Piece", "Searching for Jacob." The expose helped point out the ways in which our government may already be involved. I could be crass and suggest without the presence of a natural resource on which we are dependent there is little motivation for governmental intervention. Let me just say we need to assemble the right voices to exert the right kind of political pressure to end the violence in Darfur.

Another question came when one wondered what a person does when they do not feel the same about the crisis in Darfur. My response has largely been that what we asked requires about 15 minutes and a computer of phone. I could press harder and say how is it we cannot feel something for innocent who suffer mercilessly. If we can raise enough awareness of the kinds of things that happen when people are reduced to an "enemy of the state" and then systematically or even randomly attacked, raped, murdered and driven from their homes then we may well look around in places much closer to home and discover the initial steps that result in disregard for life occur all around. We have many neighbors suffering such a plight.

Our intent is to raise awareness, pray and urge our leaders to do more. Our hope is something will be done. Our desire is for those who worship with us will be more aware of the insidious ways we ourselves reduce people to throw away objects – by race, habit, lifestyle, economic status – and dishonor the call and illustration of Christ to "love our neighbor."

The Real Mary Forum …

One of my favorite books to re-read during the Season of Advent is Walter Wangerin’s, Preparing for Jesus: Meditations on the Coming of Christ, Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom. I heard Walter preach at the first National Pastor’s Convention and was completely enthralled at the manner in which he communicated the gospel in story. His book was on one of the speaker’s book tables and I grabbed it up. You should do the same!

I have found a new book to re-read each year during the Season of Advent. Scot McKnight’s new book, The Real Mary: Why Evangelical Christians Can Embrace the Mother of Jesus. In an earlier post I noted the opportunity to receive a copy and host a forum. I plan to do a series review December 1st (Friday). We held our forum last evening and determined to extend our discussion over a series of Wednesdays in December. This will be part of our celebration of Advent.

Growing up in a fundamentalist, dispensationalist church context, I regularly heard we were living in the Laodecian Age of the Church. Attempts to describe the "lukewarm" nature of the church were generally intended to compel people to "get fired up" about the Lord. Everyone bemoaned the apparent apathy sweeping the church in American and Europe. Regular stories of once packed churches in England found a place in pulpits warning of things to come on this side of the pond. Certainly there is a great deal of indifference among people today, notably among those carrying church membership and their "asbestos" get out of Hell free card they plan on showing at the "pearly gates."

McKnight stirred me to thinking about another condition among the "churched" and "de-churched." (This is my connection not his, though I think he would make it nonetheless). Could it be our chief issue in the church and maybe even without is ambivalence rather than apathy? Much has been made of the angst created when the progress for which we hoped disappeared faster than the new Nintendo wii or the new Sony Playstation on "Black Friday." Many suspected the progress made in all areas where man exercised his unbridled reason would create a new day for all people everywhere. Three years into the war in Iraq, the war on Terror, the 25th year in our war on AIDS/HIV and who knows how long we have battled cancer (and we have not included other issues like the potential "Bird Flu" pandemic, raging genocide in at least the Sudan, forced prositution and abortion) and still we meet our limitations. Who thought it would be like this in the year 2006? OK, sure there are the skeptics and cynics, but many really believed we would be further along in our "progress."

Ambivalence is much like the attraction and rejection found with the flipping of a magnet. Sometimes the poles attract and other times they repel. We are not sure what to do when we encounter a thing or a person who does both and maybe even at the same time. McKnight describes the ambivalence expressed by Mary and Jesus’ family. They well could have found Jesus both inviting and alarming. He did not fit their picture. He did not fit anyone’s picture. So, there were times where he was embraced and other times he was shunned. Can we not say this is the case today?

Things are not supposed to …. You fill in the rest of the sentence. "Do what he says," barks Mary. They came to get Jesus because they thought him "mad." He is equally embraced and repelled. I really think this is more of what we find in our churches today. What is odd is just when Jesus is embraced and when he is shunned. Bad things happen and we want to embrace Jesus. Good things abound and we shun Jesus. This is certainly an over-simplification. I know well those times when crises come so intense the bad things make us angry at the One "who knows all about our sorrows."

The tension created by the apparent ambivalence  expressed by many who claim to follow Christ should be the seedbed for increased wrestling through to discovery, the "a-ha" moment. Yet, we are not allowed to hold much in tension because the voices of certainty cajole us for our timidness and humility. So we suffer in silent ambivalence with no one to discuss these things that both attract and repel. No one with whom we may travel and discover just how did you overcome/work through the period of anxiety. Until that is, we see Mary as McKnight portrays her. He may well not have intended these thoughts, but they are sure the ones flooding this pastor’s mind.

Maybe we need to start a recovery group, Ambivalents Anonymous." We could stand in a safe place and admit to the consternation felt when that which we thought was real was not. We could find help to embrace what is really real.

Go get the book! Come back and let’s interact on this one … soon.


Darfur Action Weekend … And what did you do?

I recall Dr. Nat Bettis teaching the course, "The Life of Christ" at Oklahoma Baptist University. Dr. Bettis used John Walter Good’s, The Jesus of Our Fathers. In order to use this text he had to photocopy, with permission, his own. Later my mentor bought me a copy of Alfred Edersheim’s, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. These texts intend to help us think through the actions of Jesus in relation to his context in the first century.

Save Darfur designated this past weekend as Darfur Action Weekend and so Sunday was Darfur Action Sunday. We participated in this call at our church. Generally we follow the Lectionary Texts from week to week but for this occasion we followed the suggested text, Luke 10:25-37 – what many will note is the place of the parable of "The Good Samaritan." Two days later I am convinced one message does not allow us to explicate the full measure of this parable told in the context of a conversation with a young "lawyer of religion."

Yesterday and today I have listened to two messages by Tim Keller (Thanks to Steve McCoy for the "Keller Resource Page.") My interest lie in the title to the messages which related to "Neighbors" and a message about the "diaconal ministry" at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. Little did I know these were messages around the text in Luke 10 which would have been helpful resources for my own sermon preparation. One thing that struck me was the way in which different eyes catch different things though we travel similar tracks in our study. It was not lost on me that our own justifications tend to lead us around the very people in need. In fact, I am not so sure we do not hide behind the, "I will pray for you", offered to those who tell us of their needs and we are not sure we want to get too involved. It is a pious sounding thing but vacuous of action. No question we should pray. But in the grand scene of separation Jesus notes it will not be that we "prayed for" the naked, the imprisoned, the hungry, etc. No, it was what we did with the "power in our hand to do something" that marks us as Kingdom ambassadors.

One of the things Dr. Bettis noted back in the early 1980’s was the inequality of wealth to population. At the time he noted the USA possessed 96% of the world’s wealth but only 4% of the world’s population. (Which has not changed much today.) I am certain that in some ways Dr. Bettis intended us to grasp the responsibility that comes with wealth. Since that time I have read Ron Sider’s, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience. My own sense of guilt rises when I consider what I have and what others do not have. I do need to understand these dynamics. But, is guilt the best motivation for helping? Do we do well to cajole Americans for their great wealth while the world writhes in poverty and hope the guilt felt will result in action? (I admit to times where any motivation to get someone to do good is a temptation.)

However, as I listened to Keller and reflected on my own message  we seemed to hit a similar cord, though he much more clearly than I. Motivation out of guilt is absent from the parable Jesus told. There is no way a Samaritan would feel guilty for leaving a half-dead Jew by the side of the road. So, for us to consider a Samaritan a wealthy figure in the parable is a bit presumptuous. In fact, it is fare more scandalous for the Samaritan to give out of his poverty for another human being than to give out of his wealth out of guilt. Keller says something like this much more eloquently than I have typed here. The issue is what we do for people precisely because they are people made in the "image of God."

The one thing that strikes me comes when I think of my own tradition who for years has worked to raise awareness of the value of life targeting the issue of abortion as one of its chief social agendas.  Where are we when other atrocities illustrate the devaluing of life. Can there really be any difference between abortion and the senseless ethnic cleansing taking place in the Sudan? And, this one will get me a few barbs, is there really any difference dehumanizing someone for their actions – murder or homosexuality – and ignoring both the millions of unborn and the hundreds of thousands lost to genocide? Jesus seems to address the issue of devaluing life that results in murder. We begin with labels, calling names and ascribing designations, we then may hate them and then tell them they should die.

We too often runt he risk of collapsing our politics and our faith so that we only speak of what fits our own agendas. For example, Wayne Grudem applauds the President (and on some issues I agree). It is as though the job well done is considered so when it fits a narrow agenda. But, when we fail to take all things into account are not our voices muted by our lack of consistency? The video below may illustrate just how far off we are when considering what is really important.

Possible? Dsirable? …

Paul noted the tone toward bloggers at some recent meetings among Southern Baptists in Texas. Regardless of what one thinks of the role of the Internet in denominational "goings on" one cannot but think what kind of constructive ways the medium may be used to foster cooperation for the Kingdom.

My daughter is taking a college government class during this her senior year in high school – yes, her father (me) bemoans the typing of that last sentence (I want to say something like, "Say it ain’t so!). We were studying for a test this past week together. One of the questions asked what year was it when the Internet was used for political campaigns. The correct answer was 1996. Another question asked how much money John McCain raised via the Internet for his campaign. I think the answer was about $5 million. Many could argue the value of the Internet in politics and religion, but since we cannot separate the two on some levels, it is nice someone is thinking forwardly on ways this medium might overcome the Byzantine institutionalism that often gets in the way of the intended goal. (Yes, the reference to Byzantine institutionalism comes from a comment Dr. Paige Patterson made about the BWA in Spain a number of years ago.)

So, it is little wonder I have interest in what Dr. Davis is thinking over at aintsobad. Go take a read and let me know what you think.