New Article

NEW:  The Vital Role of Cultural Anthropology in Development of Theology. This paper considers the role of anthropology, particularly cultural anthropology, and its importance in theology. Utilizing some of the ideas of Hans Frei, the paper also supports the greater importance of cultural analysis of sacred texts over historical analysis, and, utilizing the terms of Frei, the value of a hermeneutic of description over a hermeneutic of suspicion. This paper supports the idea that all theology is contextual and thus gains from the study of the culture in which the theologies is embedded. (2015)

Available on this page, and at www.academia.edu.

The Scholars of St. Anselm’s. A Short Story.

Originally posted on theostorying:

Jon, Tom, Bev and Tammy were eating lunch together in the school yard of St. Anselm’s Elementary School. Jon and Tom were, as usual, trying to show off who was the best— the smartest, strongest, fastest, bestest.

Jon said, “I know what the biggest biggest most huge creature looks like. Bet you don’t!” This was probably aimed mostly at Tom, but Jon was open to challenging the girls as well.

Tom said, “Ha! Everybody knows that… that’s so stupid. Bet you don’t.”

Tammy joined in. “ Well I bet neither of you know, really. You just think you do.”

Bev kept quiet, as she usually did in these sort of arguments.

“The biggest creature,” stated Jon with the air of an expert, “has gray skin, big ears, and a long nose. Bet you are so stupid that you don’t even know what they are called.”

Tammy jumped in. “That’s an…

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Grudgingly Faithful

My son was in college recently and a fellow student walked up to him and introduced himself. His name was Benjamin. My son did not recognize him at first. He mentioned that he lived near the church we used to be involved in. He attended the Friday night youth activities He was wondering if we were still doing them (no we are not). He really enjoyed them and was happy that we had committed to doing them.

I remember Benjamin even though that was over 7 years ago, and I led the youth activities for only a few months.

In 2007, Celia and I joined a churchplanting activity. We are not churchplanters generally. In Baguio City, one can hardly throw a rock up in the air without it landing on a church. But we had finished our field education at seminary for one church and we felt it time to go elsewhere. When an opportunity came up to join a new churchplant, we were excited. As a pioneer in the new church we got more involved in church activities than we had before. Our main ministry was mostly parachurch, at the time working on organizing medical mission events, and a local children’s ministry.

At this new church we were on the board of elders (we had a very relaxed governance). I was on the praise team (playing saxophone) and was a Sunday School teacher, and part of the preaching rotation.

All of this was fine, but the church needed someone to lead the Youth. I was asked.  I don’t like youth!! Teenagers annoy me. I like to say that I was never a teenager (not true, I suppose, but I never felt like a teenager).

Despite the stress of organizing and running medical missions, overseeing Kids Club activities, some cooperative work, leading Bible studies, preaching, and being a student in a doctoral program… the most emotionally tiring activity for me was the youth events. I did it for several months, but eventually the time came that I stepped out of it (I can ‘t remember the argument I used).

It is strange that Benjamin was not the first who had talked about the impact of those youth nights. I have had others also talk about it as important in their growth.

SOOOO… what does this ultimately mean?  To me it means this:

1.  We are designed by God to serve in certain ways and on certain things. God has given us giftings, talents, temperaments, passions and skills. Understanding these helps us know what we are supposed to do to serve.

2.  But God also gives us circumstances, opportunities, social connections, spheres of influence as well. Sometimes these are not in line with the things listed in #1. That does not mean we automatically say “NO.”

Sometimes we need to be available, even if grudgingly faithful, when God needs us. God used Jonah, a very grudging servant. Jesus called His disciples and pushed them to their limits and beyond with regards to their comfort zones as well.

God can use us in these grudgingly faithful moments. God can still change others through us. And God can also change us.

New Blogsite

I have created a new blogsite:                     

www.theostorying.wordpress.com

It will focus on the concept of theostorying… defined (be me at least) as

“the act of creative reflection on God, and our associated relationships with Him and each other, crafted artistically into the medium of the story, so as to allow the listener to join in the reflection through experiencing the story, being challenged by the story, and inspiring further questions.”

I will put stories, parables, and such on this sight as well as a bit of narrative theology (probably).

In so doing, I have already transferred a lot of articles from this site (munsonmissions.org) to the new one under the category of parables/allegories.  I also deleted my last three posts here

Strangers in the Land

<NOTE: The image here for vulnerability, I am using as synonymous with weakness. Some don’t feel that way. For them, vulnerability is a virtue while weakness is a well… weakness. I would suggest that both, properly understood, are virtues, and… well… strengths.>

Two passages with regard to the life of Abraham are especially meaningful to me.

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”    -Genesis 12:1-3

13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.    -Hebrews 11:13-16

These passages make it clear to me that Abraham left a place he knew as home and never reached a new place he considered home. While God told him in Genesis that he would be made a great nation, the Hebrews passage makes it clear, that the concept to Abraham in no way suggested a governmental power, or a nation of possession. In fact, the only land he owned was a burial site.

Let’s consider some implications of this.

  • Abraham is to be a blessing, but to be a blessing as a stranger among those who are part of the power structure.
  • Abraham, and arguably Abraham’s descendants, is not presumed to “bless” from a position of power but from a position of weakness.

We struggle with this. In the book of Joshua, the descendents of Abraham (through Jacob) set up a homeland, a place of power, and were to drive out or kill those who oppose. Of course, this fact is also challenged by the Mosaic Law that stated that one should always be kind and generous to strangers, foreigners, aliens. After all, the Israelites were aliens in Egypt. (Being powerless should always inspire one to be kind and generous when one has power.) It seems that the Mosaic Law expected the long-term normal was that Israelites, descendants of Abraham, would always live with those who were not. Israel was never very good at being a blessing to those around as long as they were a political entity. They spent too much time taking care of themselves, and fighting the “enemy”– both internally and externally.

This all is relevant to us, because Jesus and the Apostles always spoke and wrote from the presupposition that Christians would always live as strangers within larger (non-Christian) communities. The assumption was that they would be salt and light to those around them. One could argue Jesus and His disciples did not foresee Osrhoene, Armenia, Roman Empire, Ethiopia, Holy Roman Empire, and the series of “Christian nations” supporting what sometimes gets called Christendom. <But Christendom is now dead… and we as Christians, I argue, should be happy with this.>

But maybe it is not about what Jesus and His disciples foresaw or did not foresee. Maybe the point is that Christians ARE SUPPOSED TO LIVE AS STRANGERS/FOREIGNERS/ALIENS IN WHATEVER LAND THEY LIVE. If that is the case, there are some things we need to consider:

  • The concept of the “Christian Nation” is flawed from the start. Islam embraces earthly kingdoms, but Jesus actively rejected the concept of an earthly kingdom… both in word (My kingdom is not of this world, John 18:36), and in deed (opposing Satan’s lure to human governmental power). If other religions are seduced by this lure, that is their own call. For Christians, we should not.
  • While we may grieve for the evil behaviors that we see around us, our job is to live holy lives, and generously, sacrificially, help those around us, in word and in deed. Our call is not to try to legislate conformity to Christ’s standards.
  • We should show solidarity and concern for Christians who have the misfortune to live in regimes that hold to the unconscionable behavior of mistreating Christians because they have the power to do so. We should be able to have enough empathy as human beings for that. But as Christians, our empathy should be greater, and we should show real concern for minority groups among us.
  • David Tracy in “Plurality and Ambiguity” notes the Religion is always meant to be revolutionary… anti- (or at least counter-) cultural. The reason is that it challenges the way things are, and points to how things are supposed to be… to challenge people to see the “Ultimate Reality” not the shallow, vilolent, self-satisfied reality around us. Once religion (Christianity especially, but others as well) assumes a mythic role (supporting culturally the status quo) it has lost its role as a religion. Thus, Christianity is not part of the State this side of Heaven.

I have lived as an alien, stranger, foreigner, in the Philippines for 11 years. Although the Philippines is a pretty friendly place… I will probably always be a bit of an outsider. That is okay. It does help me see the other side a bit. As an alien, I am weak. Living in the Philippines, I also live in a weak country overshadowed by a much stronger country.

Christians should spend time embracing weakness. Christianity has always been at its best operating from a position of weakness… rather than from a position of military, or political strength. Maybe one day we as Christians can embrace the words of St. Paul:

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.  2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Adventures in Typing

I have had to cut back a little in blogging. Part of it is because of a lot of stuff going on this Summer. We have a Disaster Response Symposium that our group (Bukal Life Care) is putting together in partnership with Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary and Virginia Baptist Disaster Response. We also will be doing our first medical mission in two years (definitely out of practice). And we have 16 CPE trainees at our center right now and for the next several weeks.

Additionally, though, trying to do some book writing.

90% Done. “Ministry in Diversity.” Book on Applied Cultural Anthropology, for Missions. Technically, it is done. I used it for my Cultural Anthropology class. I have to finish footnoting and indexing., Also the students wanted more examples (I can get too focused on information at times). This book is for Bible schools… particularly in the Philippines or Asia.

70% Done.  “Foundations of Community and Clinical Pastoral Care.” This has been a slow one. I had it listed at 30% for ages. Many of the chapters are done. Still a fair bit of work in the Pastoral Supervision section. Actually hope to finish it before the anthropology book. To be used by Bible Schools and CPE centers, especially in Southeast Asia.

5% Done.  “Adventures in Theostorying.” The title may change. Have 2 or 3 chapters kind of done. But still a ways to go.

My two fully complete books are:

Theostorying   and   Principles and Practices for Healthy Christian Medical Missions

Feel free to check them out on Amazon… if you have time.