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Tag Archives: love

Interruption, and a song that gets me every time I hear it.

“The shortest definition of religion: interruption.” –Johann Baptist Metz

Strange as it may sound, one of the foremost topics that I explored during this first just-recently-completed semester of doctoral study was the topic of “interruption.” Especially since, for those of you who know me, interruption is something I already do pretty well on my own. (Just ask Amy.)

As a theological/philosophical category, though, “interruption,” or “irruption,” is about our assumptions being challenged—it is the moment where we are confronted with something or some insight that forces us to reassess the way things are. (And I think It’s one of the most interesting categories about which postmodern thought and the Christian faith can be in dialogue.)

And so since many of the church communities that I have been a part of have struggled to contend with cultures of complacency and comfort, it’s really not that strange that “interruption” would be a category of interest for me.

According to theologian J.B. Metz (quote above), interruption is the very purpose of Christian faith—and yet so often faith and religion and religious practices are associated with everything but interruption—i.e., challenge, confrontation, awe, exposure, humility, spirituality.

While I’ve been studying this phenomenon the past few months on an academic level, earlier this week I was reminded of an example from my own life—a song that I first heard about seven years ago.

(Click below to find out, and to get a link to, the song.)

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Posted by on January 6, 2012 in love

 

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God wants “Godly things…” God wants YOU.

Here is another excerpt from a sermon—this one is from our most recent Sunday at our church in West Groton, Mass.

In all likelihood, this will be a common trend on this blog for the foreseeable future— to either reflect on readings from my doctoral study, or to post excerpts from recent sermons. So, it will be a combination of me trying to make sense of faith, and of me trying to explain faith to others. Either way, I hope to continue receiving feedback from others in the blogosphere.

This is the middle portion of the sermon, part of a series of sermons teaching on the Kingdom/Reign of God, using the lectionary passages. This Sunday, the passage was Matthew 22:15-22:

(NRSV) 15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said.16So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ 18But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites?19Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius.20Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ 21They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ 22When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

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Posted by on October 18, 2011 in faith, love

 

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But I’m bored already: a call to long-suffering

 

As a church… as a culture…. we are easily seduced by the instantaneous.

Never has that been more true than in the age of Internet, fast food, and airplane travel. Yet the seduction of doing things as quickly as possible has been a part of Western life for over 150 years, since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. The effect has simply snowballed.

Church communities have long since bought into this as well:

* The 19th century saw a rapid spread of Protestant Christianity in the US, which necessitated more “efficient” ways to become a Christian. Tenets of faith were reduced to simple “fundamentals” that everyone could digest, understand without much intense study, and were easily replicable. Theology became the means to substantiate this “Christianity Lite.” Circuit riders and wagons followed Manifest Destiny west.The proliferation only increased in speed with the advent of technologies such as the steam engine and the railroad, followed by the automobile and airplane.

* Pastoral care had to speed up, too. Inspired by the miraculous events in the scriptures, and perhaps by the testimonies of healing, some of these evangelists took up “healing ministries”—which was a convenient way to both continue full-fledged proliferation of the “gospel,” without having to get bogged down in slower, messier activities like relationships or compassion.

* Of course, while many denominations and groups maintained their devotion to compassion and justice, many communities spent less and less time on such things, unless of course doing so posed some direct benefit for their cause to “spread the easy-to-swallow Gospel.” Justice, fighting prejudice, challenging unjust laws, these things take time. The 19th and early 20th centuries still saw some progress, but it was around that time that people advocating for a “social gospel” were being demonized as heretics and Communists…such causes were deemed as ‘getting in the way’ of spreading the real Gospel message.

* All of these incipient trends began to accelerate in the mid/late 20th centuries. Along with it, churches and revivals became places of mass religious consumption, designed for maximum conversion rates. Reactions against liberation movements for women, blacks, and others led many churches’ silence or outright condemnation, which allowed abuse, scandal, and corruption to go unchecked in homes, businesses and in churches themselves. In the face of threatening post-Christian culture, churches catered more and more to the styles and modes and fashions that they hoped would make their Gospel-nuggets palatable again. Missionaries were being slowly replaced by the medium-term, and then the short-term missionary. This allowed more people to have “life-changing experiences,” but cost far more money, less of which actually went to the poor… but it was all good, because the trips gave the participants all the feelings of “investment,” without actually investing. Needs of the community have been farmed out to committees and sub-committees, all to find convenient, cost-effective solutions, advertised as easy, not-too-life-consuming “ways to get involved,” nearly always in the form of a structured church program.

Is it any wonder why people feel lonely in our world? Even at church?

It’s time for the church to think long-term. 

To not do a hundred things at the shallowest of levels, but to do only a few things, and to do them well.

The new benchmark for church success? That people build deep, long-lasting, long-suffering relationships.

With each other. With community projects. With the poor, young, abused.

It’s time to stop judging a ministry on the basis of whether or not it “grows,” or if it leads to “conversions” (but probably not disciples)… but on the basis of the love that is shown, and grown.

It’s time to think in terms of years, not months…. and in DECADES, not years.

It’s time to realize that deep, systemic, deeply rooted-within-societal problems don’t go away with our prayers, if no loving action goes with it. And they don’t go away with our one-time action, or even, oftentimes, our one-year action. It takes deep, systemic, deeply rooted responses to such deep problems… which includes prayer, AND involvement, for the long-haul.

It’s time for churches, as well as the individuals in them, to build relationships. Real, two-way relationships. And to realize that these, unforced and uncajoled, take time to develop.

It’s time for churches seeking pastors, and new church leaders, to see the inevitable “downswing” that happens after new relationships are forged and the “honeymoon phase” is over, as an opportunity to “long-suffer” with another, rather than high-tail it and to look for another community, group, individual, etc. to fawn over, or to let fawn over you.

It’s time to stop patting ourselves on the back for only the things we measure as “success.”

And for the love of God, we must, we must, we MUST stop supplementing our quick-fix, easy-answer, instantaneous-results orientation with a “Gospel Lite.” The “Good News” is not truly good, until it affects every strata of living— physical, emotional, social, spiritual, political, ecclesial. Until it is Good News for those who long-suffer and carry heavy burdens of oppression, guilt, abuse, neglect, poverty, self-worthlessness. Until that Good News becomes Incarnate, en-fleshed, in the very midst of that suffering, and we then “suffer with” (com-passio) the suffering.

Even if it takes a while.

A LONG while.

….

Are we willing to work on behalf of others without immediate or continual payoff?

Are we able to?

Does our theology, our Gospel, give us the resources to do so?

 

“Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen

 http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/4837.Henri_J_M_Nouwen

 
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Posted by on October 13, 2011 in church, jesus, theology

 

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“Easter Philosophy”: Faith can be a crutch (Rollins). It can also give life (Jones).

 

Yeah, I’m still FOB (Flat on Back) today.  Thanks for asking.

Yesterday’s post featured a “vlog” of me responding to a great discussion between philosopher Peter Rollins and pastor/theologian Tony Jones (who just defended his Ph.D. dissertation yesterday at Princeton) that occurred on Easter in New York City.

(I’m still not happy with my vlogging attempts so far, btw.  If anyone has some ideas as to how to improve them, I’d be happy to hear them.  [Anyone else find it immensely awkward to talk to a computer screen?] )

But yesterday I offered some passing thoughts regarding Rollins, who is far more interested in the present-day manifestations of resurrection-living in faith communities, than in the historical facts of the resurrection itself.  (Which sounds Marcus Borgish, and it kinda is, but I think his objectives are quite different.)  I wondered what the implications were for his take on resurrection for missional church behavior, and I tried to summarize his take on the relationship between faith and doubt in comparison to my own.  By comparison Jones makes a case for a physical resurrection, not by prooftexting or using apologetics, but by talking about what makes a story about a physical resurrection compelling, fitting, and beautiful.  In many ways, their positions well summarize the two primary so-called “postmodern” approaches to Christian philosophy today, although the divide is not nearly as dramatic as it was in the modern era. 

When we say “I love God,” is this really what we mean?

Today, in contrast, I want to mention where I particularly resonate with Rollins, and then talk a bit about (what else?) faith.  Follow me, beyond the jump.

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Posted by on April 26, 2011 in theology

 

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New Questions– Compelling reasons for faith. (ANKC/God-Notes)

This week features both: 1) A change in blog theme, if you haven’t already noticed, and 2) Returning to posts inspired by A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren.  Almost too much awesomeness to handle all at once, I know.  Take deep breaths if you get dizzy. 

There, there.  Everything’s going to be fine.

Actually, my line of thinking for this post originates from a conversation I had with a youth at our church last week about his faith, and the nature of faith in general.  He had some amazing spiritual insight for his age (16), and drew from a variety of religious sources to get there, including a bit of sensationalized religious “wisdom” passed on from peers.  In other words, as research would tell us, he is your typical American teenager [although I’ll give him higher than average marks for spiritual awareness and humility, imo].

It brought my memory back to a familiar question that I faced regularly in college, as I confronted religious diversity for the first time:  “What are the essentials of my belief system?”…. [which is followed by the important corollary:  “Why are they so essential, and what’s actually at risk if those essentials are muddied or disregarded?”]   

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Posted by on April 21, 2011 in theology

 

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Thoughts on Rob Bell (final part).

This is a sampling of what you find when you do a Google Image Search for “Love Wins.” 

Seriously, I didn’t expect to be so inspired by the sheer variety of representations of such a simple phrase. 

I just thought I was going to add some pretty pictures to my last (for now) Rob Bell-related post…. but the sheer number of ways “Love Wins” is re-cast, having inspired people to do so?  What can I say?  I’m moved by a Google search. 

It’s not just lip service that Rob Bell pays:  The simple message of “Love Wins” (as contradictory as Peter Rollins might find it) is clearly a compelling one, especially to post-Christians, the “de-churched,” or those jaded to institutional Christianity.  It strikes a nerve. 

rollins tweet love others win

Smarta$$.

It’s too bad that we have spent so much time… (for me, I have spent four blog posts, now)…. talking about hell and the implications for various Christian ideological/cultural parties… when we could have been discussing the simple appeal of the message—that I believe comes from something deeper than what some are accusing as the modern world’s need to “water down” the Gospel.

It’s the desire to affirm that love is the supreme attribute of God and the primary life-characteristic of the faithful (1 John 4:8, 16; 1 Corinthians 13:13).

It’s a desire to see the power of love in action, even in a world full of violence—a power to which Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero, Mother Teresa, Martin Niemoller, Desmond Tutu, Gandhi and now our brothers and sisters in Egypt, have testified. [At the cross, God Himself testified to that power, in defiance of the Roman juggernaut… and demonstrated how pitifully powerless the worst of human violence was, when it came into contact with His outstanding, out-lasting, out-of-this-world love.]

It’s saying that God wins, to say that love wins. 

For God is Love. 

And God’s desire?  That the world might be reconciled to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19).   Our desires line up with God’s, when we long for the earth to be renewed, for heaven to come to earth.

“But wait!”  you might say. 

“Don’t God’s love and God’s justice have to balance each other?”

         Why? 

         It’s called mercy for a reason, after all.  Undeserved.

         And if that were the case, why doesn’t the Bible have balancing passages that say “God is justice?”  Seems like it would, were it an equal component of God’s character to His love.

No, we understand God’s justice through the context of God’s love.   God will hold us accountable for how we have wronged each other; He will make things right again, as the Righteous Judge, and settle accounts between every oppressor and every oppressed. [How He does this, however, is not for us to speculate.]

Earthly parents give consequences for broken rules, but if they lock children in their room forever, that would be considered unadulterated child abuse.  (Never mind if they set that room on fire!) Loving parents enact consequences, but they also forgive relentlessly, time and time again, without limit.  Is the love of parents greater than God’s love? 

This message?  That God’s love will dry up eventually, so get on board while you can?  Doesn’t strike me as good news.

Am I a universalist?  No.  (Course, I don’t think Rob is, either.)

Do I probably agree with Rob?  Don’t know until I read the book; based on interviews and reviews, I’m guessing that I’ll agree with 90% of him, at least. 

I say what I do above about God’s love for the purpose of highlighting the inherently scandalous nature of love, not to take a theological position.  I don’t have the answers. But within the huge range of possibilities of the nuances we highlight regarding our beliefs about heaven and hell, can we at least maybe, at least try, perhaps just once, pretty-please-with-sugar-on-top, let that AMAZING RADICALITY OF GOD’S GRACE AND LOVE, AND THE CONQUERING OF SIN AND DEATH BY A DRAMATIC LOVE-ACT OF GOD HIMSELF, SETTLE INTO OUR HEARTS…. and chew on it for a while? 

Speaking of Egypt— While Evangelical Christianity is wetting its pants over Rob Bell, there’s a WHOLE lot going on in the world.

Stuff that Christians, who claim to serve a GOD OF LOVE, should be VERY concerned about. 

Read this, if you haven’t already, regarding this sad fact.

Rather than spew vitriol, which is a testimony to some other God other than the Crucified One which we follow…

Perhaps we should instead testify to the God of Love.  You can start right now by giving to the Adventure Project.  Then give to the Red Cross for Japan and Libya.  Then learn more, speak out more, get in the ears of your leaders for the sake of the voiceless more, sit with the poor and hurting and get to know their names more, pray more, listen more, and celebrate more. 

That’s what “Love Winning” looks like. 

Christ on Earth.  In You. 

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2011 in justice, love, theology

 

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Thoughts on Rob Bell (part four).

 

Evangelicalism’s Doom and the Phoenix that is Mainline Protestantism:  A response (sort-of) to David Fitch and Scot McKnight

 

{DISCLAIMER:  Post (and especially picture captions) are not for the easily offended.}

 

Faculty David Fitch

David Fitch and Scot McKnight are both evangelical theologians of the highest caliber, both with better-than-average communication skills in a field that’s not exactly known for its sublime prose. 

Fitch has a new book out, that you can learn all about here.  I’m excited to get a chance to read it soon, and as you can see for yourself on his website, you can get a copy at a 40% discount.  What a guy. Smile 

[See “our conversation” (in a manner of speaking) after the jump.]

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Posted by on March 21, 2011 in church, emergent, future, RCA, theology

 

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