The Wise Fool

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Many years ago I was being stashed at Destroyer Squadron 2 (in Norfolk, Virginia) in between ship duties. During that time, I was asked to join a Damage Control Inspection on a ship I had never been on before. I was a Lieutenant Junior Grade (LTJG) at the time. Even though I was mostly along for the ride… during the damage control drills, I would be asked questions about what actions would be best. Now, I had been qualified Damage Control Watchstander before, and I had done my share of trainings in flooding and fire and such. But I was certainly no expert. Part of me wanted to say:

“I am a FRAUD!! I shouldn’t be here… but I have no choice. You can ask me anything but my answer is probably no better than your own.”

I rather felt the same way in 2004 when I got to the Philippines as a missionary. We were sent by our home church so we did not have the advantages of pre-field training. Yet many asked me to speak at different events  It was good experience…. and part of me appreciated the trust. Yet, that feeling was still there.

“I am being listened to because I look like a missionary… but I have no idea what I am doing or saying!!”

Now these were not the only times I have felt this way. Other times I felt like this include:

  • The first time I visited a nuclear submarine to try to repair their navigational radar.
  • The first time I taught a class on church growth and multiplication
  • The first time I was team leader for a medical mission.

That is okay, however. We are supposed to feel awkward and ill-prepared the first time one does something big and different. In effect, in such situations, there is always a bit of “Fake it ’til you make it.”

But for me, at least, I find things different in doing pastoral counseling.  My primary pastoral counseling is with missionaries and other clergy. I am the administrator of a pastoral counseling center, and so I get called upon to do a certain amount of pastoral care/counseling. Many will talk to me like I know what I am doing and am wise in what I am saying. I feel like saying,

“Look, only with the greatest difficulty do I have some sense of what I should do and say in my own life. I am far far less sure of what you should do or say. Nearly all of the ‘wisdom’ I may have has come from my being in the vicinity of so many many many failures and mistakes… many of which I caused myself.”

But in counseling, the feeling of incompetence does not go away…

…and I think that is a good thing.fbdd23f3ee7915dfmed

I have seen pastoral counselors become confident in their abilities. Some go towards being confident moral adjudicators, “knowing” exactly what the client should do and not do. Others towards playing junior psychologist… diagnosing with doubtful confidence what is “really going on”

But pastoral care/counseling is strongest when it is most humble… most tentative. Robert C. Dykstra, in his book “Images of Pastoral Care” lists several paradoxical metaphors/images of pastoral care. Among these is:

  • Wounded Healercircus-clown-cool-picture-favim-com-2428316
  • Circus Clown
  • Wise fool

I have always appreciated Henri Nouwen’s metaphor of the wounded healer. but I am beginning to appreciate Heije Faber’s “Circus Clown” and Alastair Campbell’s “Wise Fool.”

In the circus, everything works in the superlatives, the greatest this, and the most amazing that. But amidst the dazzling array of highly skilled artisans comes the clown… whose humor comes in part from his or her apparent incompetence, and lowliness… individuals that seem so much to not fit into the menagerie that composes the circus. Yet they seem to have a clear role. As Faber states, there appears to be a psychohygienic purpose for them being there. It pulls people back from the ethereal to the mundane… from the transcendent to the imminent. One is reminded of the court jester who could say whatever he wished without repercussion… being a fool after all… yet in so doing would perhaps say exactly what needed to be said. Every “great man” or “great woman” needs someone who does not compete for greatness, but rather listens to what needs to be listened to and says what needs to be said.

In the hospital… in the jail… in the military… a chaplain should be a bit strange, not quite fitting in. When I was in the military, I liked the chaplains. They did not think or act like others in the military. They helped one deal with the “crap” one gets dumped with, helping one adapt thoughtfully to the culture, while in turn being rather counter-cultural themselves. I never asked a Navy chaplain whether he (the ones I met were male) felt a bit out of place and awkward in the military. If I did, I am not sure what he would say– but I hope he would say something like:

“I often feel out of place– I am accepted as part of ship and part of the wardroom, and part of the organizational structure, but I don’t really fit into it comfortably– almost as if billeted at the last moment. I have access to everyone on the ship from the captain and down to the greenest seaman recruit, yet I have little to no authority to do much of anything that ties directly to the mission of the ship. I am welcome to gatherings and yet I think I make people feel awkward much of the time. People come to me, either voluntarily, or by order of someone else. Some come expecting clear answers and solutions, others come just so they can say they have gone through the motions of ‘getting some counseling.’ In both cases, I can guarantee nothing. I cannot guarantee they will be better after talking to me. I cannot guarantee any guidance I may give is even correct. All I can do is be available, pull them briefly out of the structure of rank, authority, and responsibility, as well as DOs and DON’Ts in their chain of command, and truly communicate human being to fellow human being.”

That is what I would hope to hear, kind of like a clown at a circus… a (wise) fool in the courts of power.

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“Wabi-Sabi” Redemption

Some time back I had written on the metaphor of “Kintsukuroi” with regards to the Christian Faith… particularly our understanding of humanity (theological anthropology). I noted that in the Japanese pottery artform of “golden repair,” beauty is seen in the accentuation of the repairs rather than the hiding of repairs. The making of beauty out of destruction is a redemptive act, and demonstrates the true skills of a master craftsman.  If you want to see those posts, click below. Both are good, but the 2nd post contains my theological perspective of the metaphor. :

Kintsukuroi Faith: Beautifully Broken. Part 1wabi-sabi-pot3

Kintsukuroi Faith: Beautifully Broken. Part 2

But one could see the artform of kintsukuroi as being based on an aesthetic viewpoint known as “Wabi-sabi.” (Do not assume I am an “artsy” person. I am not. But I do love a good metaphor.) Pulling a little bit of Wikipedia:

Wabi-sabi represents Japanese aesthetics and a Japanese world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”

For many of us, our aesthetic is guided, often unconsciously, by the Greek ideal. Beauty is seen in:

  • Symmetry and “flawlessness”
  • Conforming to some ideal (unnatural) form
  • Unchangingness

These ideals not only affect our aesthetics, they affect our theology as well. I have previously noted two “attributes” of God in Christian theology that seem to be based more on Platonic thought than on Biblical revelation. I believe this has led us to a very mistaken picture of God.

. These are the Immutability and Impassibility of God. (See post HERE)

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It seems as if God finds beauty outside of Platonic Ideals. Of course, in Greek thought, the natural world was bad or flawed, while the spiritual world is good. Although, the New Testament utilizes the metaphoric contrast of the carnal and the spirit, it is clear that Paul is not rejecting creation. God created a wild, diverse, amazing, ephemeral-transient world in Genesis 1 and described it as “Very Good.” God created man “in His own image.” People like to argue what that means. But what is inarguable, is that mankind has diversity of size, looks, hues, and gender. As a child, I remember having a Bible story book and in it, there was the story of Adam and Eve. In the book, the it said that God created Eve and Eve was the most beautiful woman in the world. I suppose in Genesis 1 that would have to be true. But in the book, they had a picture of Eve. She had the look of a 1950s ideal for beauty (a la Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly) including 1950s style make-up. My suspicion is that neither Adam nor Eve would be considered particularly appealing or photogenic today. Their “beauty” is found in their unique “imperfections” that God gifted them with. That should be comforting to us. Redemption would be bringing us in line with God’s ideal for us, not our own ideal.

While we promote certain looks as ideal or beautiful, God sent His son having nothing in His looks to draw special attention to Himself. Jesus suffered mutilation at the hands of the evil and ignorant, but when God raised Him up, He left Jesus with the scars of His ordeal. It seems as if the disciples were more convinced of the power of God demonstrated in these scars than they were by Jesus’ transfiguration.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me. 10That is why, for the sake of Christ, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. II Corinthians 12:9-10

You might argue that this passage does not relate to “wabi-sabi” and I suppose you are right. But it certainly does not line up with Greek ideals or Roman virtues either. It seems to me that we can draw a bit of “wabi-sabi” into our understanding of redemption. (Note: there are aspects of the philosophy of wabi-sabi that I am not promoting. I am simply noting that aspects of it may be valuable to consider in our faith.)

God created us as limited, diverse, transient, imperfect beings. Our redemption is not the negation of those things, but the fulfillment of our creation. We were fearfully and wonderfully made, and I believe heaven will be full of people who share one thing in common– an absolute failure to conform to our present ideas of perfection.

God’s work in perfecting us, is a redemptive act of making us what we were meant to be. But what we are meant to be is far different than what we think is perfect.

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How Do We Learn?

Yeah… How DO we learn. There are all sorts of talks about Learning Styles and Modes of Learning. But in the end, some sort of “philosophy” or training should be better for nurturing change in a trainee. Our Counseling Center provides Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) and that has gotten me reflecting on how we learn, how we grow, and how we change. Sadly, I have never taken a course in Education Psychology. But I have had enough training, experience, reflection, and eduction (Yes… “Eduction,” NOT “Education”) to have a few thoughts.

Learning Diamond

Think of this Diamond Diagram above as the interaction of two cycles.

Cycle 1 is the Action-Reflection Cycle. It is also the Praxis Model of Theological Contextualization or Development. It is further the process of Pastoral Theology. rutted-road

We like to say that experience is the best teacher. That may be true, but we are not always the best learners. Often, we act without reflection, falling into the same decisions and actions like a vehicle may get stuck in the deep ruts of an old dirt road. With and after action should be thoughtful reflection. This should be done personally, meditatively, and intentionally. However, it is also aided by being doing with peers and mentor. However, this reflective activity should then guide action. The process is cyclic or, better, helical, as one learns and changes over time.

Cycle 2 is the Didactic-Eductive Cycle. The term “Didactic” has many meanings and eod0hnuances. However, it generally involves teaching via imparting knowledge to the trainee from the instructor. The term Eductive, or Eduction is a term promoted by Seward Hiltner. In my Navy days we used eductor pumps to get water out of flooded areas of the ship. The eductor pump has no moving parts and utilizes no electricity, flame, or fuel (at least directly). Water is sent through a firehose at high speed and through the “pump” that is settled in the flooded area. The low pressure, utilizing Bernoulli’s Principle and proper nozzle design, causes water to be sucked into that stream and out of the space.  Eduction then is to draw out. We already know a great deal of things… but that knowledge must be drawn out of us. Eductive learning is common in Rogerian, “client-centered,” counseling, as well as Pastoral counseling. At the same time, one cannot draw out what isn’t there in the first place. Therefore, some input, didactic training is needed as well. However, people commonly don’t change by simply given outside information. Truth needs to also come from inside to be valued and utilized. Ideally, a cycle of input and drawing out can lead to growth and change.

Bringing these two cycles together is especially valuable, and both can lead to consider change and growth. CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) seeks to bring these two cycles together. Good mentoring should as well. The LePSAS method of training (Utilized by Community Health Evangelism/Education (CHE)) also seeks to bring the two cycles together.

In ministry and missions, we seek growth and positive change… so bringing these two cycles together should be valuable to all of us. That means:

  • Trainees (disciples) should be involved in ministry/activities. Don’t fall into the trap of “train them now to minister later.” Training is best done in concert with action.
  • Trainees should not just be doers. The action needs time for reflection, incorporation, and change. Of course to do this means to allow the trainees to diverge from established activity patterns. Reflection that cannot be acted upon is demotivating.
  • Trainees need to be taught. “Throw the child in the water to see if he will sink or swim” may work for some. I have heard on the Internet how an eagle will push its young out of the nest when it is time for it to fly. But that story is false– and appears to express more about the instructor than about what works. Most people need some guidance… some instruction.
  • Trainees need to be helped to learn what they already know. Education should not be paternalistic— assuming that the trainer has all knowledge, and the trainee has only ignorance and misinformation. The trainees are full of valuable trainings, experiences, and reflections that are not synthesized/integrated. In some cases they are nearly forgotten. The trainer can help them draw these out and get them integrated with action, reflection, and new learning.

 

Nonviolent Response and Self-purification

Here is a lengthy quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. This is from an annotated version of  “Letter from Birmngham Jail”  that can be found HERE.martin-luther-king-jr-quotes-8

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action. We have gone through all of these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good-faith negotiation.

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham’s economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants—for example, to remove the stores’ humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained.

As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self-purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?” We decided to schedule our direct-action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic-withdrawal program would be the by-product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.

I put in bold red that which I am focusing on. I could bold the whole section since all seem pretty relevant.

It seems to me that Christians could learn greatly from King here.

  • Some Christians are promoting violent action either through direct action or indirect through encouraging violent response of military or paramilitary— or passively by cheering violent acts (or aggressive language) of others.
  • Christians are failing to use words to negotiate or dialogue, but only to rile up supporters and demonize the opposition.

But I am especially concerned about the failurecthulhu2016 of so many to address seriously the third step. There should be a period of self-purification… of motives, of intents and goals, and responses. Rather than purification, I see the promotion of ideas such as “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” or “choose the lesser evil.” Some may see these as necessary responses… (“The world will fall apart if THEY,” whoever ‘they’ are, “win.”) but I would like to think this is a mistake. When evil seems at its greatest… we must look at ourselves the most closely… and to God. God is our strength not guns or demogogues.

While some feel that in times of trouble, we “have to get our hands dirty,” maybe it is time for just the opposite… to have our hands and actions and hearts especially clean before God and the opposition. It may be the best time to choose the inexpedient response.

 

But is it Biblical?

Here few vignettes:

1.  Prosperity. I was in chapel at seminary, when an outside pastor spoke… he was talking about how God wanted all His children to be (financially) rich. He then added, “Some of you may not like me saying that, but it is what the Bible teaches.” Well, I am not sure I would “not like him saying that” if the Bible actually taught that– I don’t really want to be rich, but I suppose that if God felt compelled to try to make me rich, I am sure I could give enough of it to others so that I could be comfortable financially without the unpleasant problems associated with being rich. big-bible

(I have heard pastors say that “You can’t out give God,” but I wonder whether they have empirical evidence to support this.)

My problem was that it did not seem to me to be Biblical at all… “what the Bible teaches.” This preacher, and others from his church appeared to have a special affinity to Deuteronomy as well as the Book of Proverbs. Perhaps if those were the only two books in the Bible, his point might stand. But one must also deal with some uncomfortable books as well, such as Job, Ecclesiastes, Jeremiah, James, Hebrews, I Peter, and much of the Gospels and the Minor Prophets.  If one read those books alone, one might conclude, along with Liberation Theologians that God specially favors the poor and oppressed— rather than the rich and powerful. Additionally, one could pick numerous passages in the Bible, and make as compelling of an argument that suffering is the reward of righteousness, as money. In the end, we need the whole of Scripture, and the integration of the whole of Scripture is a theological process.

2.  Calvinism/Arminianism. I was reading an article by a Calvinist (or Neo-Calvinist or whatever term you choose). He was speaking of Calvinist Theology, and then said that another term for this type of theology is “Biblical Theology.” The implication is that if one takes the Bible seriously in developing one’s theology, one would be a Calvinist. Now personally, I am neither Calvinist nor Arminian. There are too many verses that show God’s prominent and prior work in our salvation for me to wholeheartedly embrace Arminian Theology— but there are too many verses that point to human responsibility and the requirement of Man to make a salvific choice for me to be comfortable with Calvinism either. The truth appears to lie in the tension between these extremes. I just do think that those who embrace the extremes have been intellectually honest with the whole of Scripture.

I recall with some amusement a blog conversation of Calvinists discussing how best to interpret John 3:16 in line with Reformed Theology. Some appeared to intelligently engage the verse. Some got into some seemingly (to me at least) irrelevant arguments about the difference between “whosoever believeth” and “whosoever already believes.” But there were a few that threw aside any pretext of good hermeneutics and essentially promoted rewriting the verse to be consistent with TULIP. None of this is “Biblical”… at its worst, it is trying to containerize the Bible within a (quite old) theological box.

3.  Counseling. I serve as Administrator of a pastoral care/counseling center in Baguio City, Philippines. We seek to integrate a theologically informed historical pastoral care with a psychologically/sociologically informed clinical pastoral care. However, some argue vehemently against this strategy. Some of them are part of what is called the Biblical Counseling Movement. Now, there are a lot of different counseling methods within that broad movement… some I find quite commendable. However, others are far less so. For example, within the Biblical Counseling Movement, there is the classic Nouthetic Counseling methodology. I would argue that it (especially in its early forms from the 1970s and 1980s) were not only not particularly Biblical, but arguably quite sub-Biblical. It tended to ignore some of the most common sources of human psychoemotional and spiritual miseries- limiting mostly to behavioral sins of the counselee. This minimizes the consequences of beliefs or  heart attitude, of being sinned against, and of living out the consequences of residing in a fallen… broken… world.

4. Family. There has been a lot of talk about “Biblical Manhood,” “Biblical Womanhood,” and the “Biblical Family.” Some supporting these issues have good things to say that correctly challenge common trends today. However, some take very doubtful theological positions, I would argue much worse than simply doubtful, such as unilateral submission, eternal submission within the Godhead, and an essentiallist view of gender temperaments or personalities. The result, in its more extreme forms, seems to tend toward 19th century American culture or even 19th century Arab culture, than 1st Century Greco-Roman church culture, or 5th century BC Hebrew culture. Of course the goal should be none of those four dead cultures, but a proper understanding of family (nuclear and extended) with range of roles that are God-honoring and culturally beneficial for the 21st century.

5.  Politics.  I got an invite to follow a twitter account that supports “Biblical Politics.” Some of the stuff I disagree with (Is it really “Biblical” to support a large military budget— I could pull quite a few verses to challenge that point, if I wanted to). But even the ones that I agreed with, I still felt shouldn’t be called “biblical” positions. Even if I am sympathetic to the idea of strong property rights, individual freedoms, and low taxes… are these positions really more biblical than, a strong communitarian view of property and rights, as well as care of the needy through taxation of the rich?  I really felt that these views that were called Biblical were little more than views that sub-culturally made sense to the individual, and then was justified by cherry-picking Bible verses.

I would argue that there are good reasons NOT to ask the question “Is it Biblical?” or to say that one’s pet beliefs are “Biblical.” Rather, one should ask if it is Theologically sound.

  • The Bible is NOT a legal document but a historical document. As such, it has precepts, principles, and historical examples. From these, one can integrate them to come up with a perspective of God’s will on a particular subject. Such integration is a theological process, so it would be more correct to say that a particular opinion is theological sound (or unsound) than it is to say that it is “Biblical.” Not to say that this solves the problem… but it is a start. Commonly, “Biblical” means that a person has found one or two verses that can be used to agree with his/her own prejudged views. But if you are bored, come up with a few ridiculous beliefs and then after some reflection see if you can come up with at least one verse that could appear to support that view. If you know your Bible, and are a bit creative, I bet you can. This is a problem with “proof-texting.”
    • Try Cannibalism. can you come up25f7d8d05eb111f17df410aebad2069d with verses in the Bible that support cannibalism? Cannibalism is mentioned a few times in the Bible. one could start there. One could go to Jesus’ metaphoric description of His disciples eating His flesh.  Then go to the Jerusalem Council where the only food constraint mentioned was against eating (living?) blood. I do NOT support cannibalism. But if one can come up with a “biblical” argument supporting cannibalism, don’t be surprised if others manage to find verses supporting all sorts of foolishness.
  • Saying something is Biblical is a way to short-circuit discussion. It is much like a preacher or ‘prophet’ who says, “God spoke to me, and He said, ‘_________________.'” You are kind of forced to believe this person or call him a liar. Returning to the Biblical issue, if one says that a “Biblical family” is “man and woman, and children” there is on a certain level truth to this. But there were families in the Bible that were childless, ones without a father, ones with multiple wives, or having concubines. By saying one was “Biblical,” a person is simply trying to avoid awkward conversations. But awkward conversations don’t necessarily go away… they just get delayed. Joseph Smith and Brigham Young attempted to argue that polygynous marriages were Biblical… and in fact Biblically mandated. I have seen nothing in the Old Testament to argue that polygynous marriages were more than tolerated (except in the case of providing an heir to a dead brother, and even that is uncertain), and nothing to suggest that it was even tolerated in the New Testament church. Still, by circumventing the discussion by declaring one family as “Biblical” people are ill-prepared to understand the issues properly.
  • Saying something is Biblical, generally, is a way to hide laziness. As soon as someone questions whether something is indeed Biblical, the supporter of the view will throw a proof-text, as if that answers the question of what the Bible teaches. After the shooting in Orlando, a few (I hope only a few) pastors quoted Leviticus about homosexual behavior as a capital offense in ancient Israel. This is far short of a full understanding of the issue.  If we are “not under the Law” and Jesus said that the Great Commandment was the greatest commandment found in the Pentateuch, are these pastors doing a thoughtful Biblical analysis of the issue, or just grabbing a verse improperly? What is the appropriate response of a civil government in a pluralistic society to homosexual behavior. What is the appropriate response of the church. What is the appropriate response of a Christian. What is the appropriate Christian response to vigilantism.  What is the appropriate response of a Christian to one who is not following Jesus.

Theology is the reflection on Divine Revelation through a cultural perspective. To say it is Biblical tends to mean that one found a verse in the Bible that sounds supportive of one’s position. To say it is theological, means (hopefully) that one reflected on the situation within context, in a Biblically thoughtful manner.

As We Change in Ministry

Over the years I have felt that we need to rethink some aspects of evaluation for ministry.

  1.  Missionary Calling is thought of as a single divine action to a place or vocation. Perhaps one could say that the Missionary Call is a single act of the sending church, but from the divine standpoint, such a calling appears to be more of a path.  As such, it is more dynamic than static.
  2. Spiritual gifting is often viewed as a one-time supernatural gifting that last forever. There seems to be no good basis for any of that. Again, it seems like it is dynamic… where our gifting changes based on where we are and what we are to do.

I think there are good theological bases for these, but in part, I see it in terms of my life. When I was young, I was a math/science guy. On my SATs (college entrance exam) I did excellent on the math side, and decent (unspectacular) on the verbal side. I got my degree in mechanical engineer, and served 5 years in the Navy. After I got out, took my GRE (graduate school entrance exam) my grades reversed. I did excellent on verbal, and good on math, and adequate on logic. Not sure why it changed.

When I went into missions, I focused on administrative work and logistics.  The strong verbal side helped me. However, I wasn’t a “people person.” I worked best typing away behind the computer. But then my wife started getting involved in pastoral counseling, and I ended up being dragged into doing counseling. I often felt that I was faking being a person who is relational and pastoral. But the more I faked the role, the more I found that I was becoming what I was pretending to be. I am sure I have a quite a way to go. But it is clear that my strengths… my gifts… are changing.

This hardly should be surprising. We do personality tests… and it is recommended that the tests are redone every 3 years because our personality is in flux. Of course, it is not only our personalities that are in flux. Our experiences are in flux. Our talents are in flux. Our sphere on influence is in flux.

Frankly, two of descriptions of the Christian life, “Following Christ” and “walking on narrow path” are descriptions of change.

I don’t recommend asking someone about their missionary calling… but their spiritual or ministerial path. Likewise. I wouldn’t focus on a “Spiritual Gift Assessment.” That might provide a snapshot for a very limited part of what God is doing in a person’s life. I think they are of little value. If the assessment is more than a couple of years old, they may be less than worthless since they may ignore what God is doing now.

 

A Living Parable of God’s Graciousness

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… the origins of the church are rooted in the ministry and the purpose of Jesus, his mission, … was to preach, to serve, and witness to the reign of God, … Jesus preached the reign of God mostly through parables, short and vivid stories that spoke of God’s almost incredible forgiving love and/or urgent nearness. His ministry of healings and exorcisms served the reign of God as “parables of action” that demonstrated the love and nearness of God and God’s implacable opposition to evil and human suffering. And Jesus’ life of inclusion– his free association with women and the poor, and his table fellowship with those thought to be sinners– was a witness that God’s in-breaking reign was one of new chances, new social relationships and radical equality.  Jesus’ very life, says Edward Schillebeeckx, was a parable, for in it was engaged the graciousness of the God he lived for and lived with.”   

–Stephen B. Bevans and Roger P. Schroeder, “Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today”, page 14. 

I cannot speak regarding the man who did the mass killing in an Orlando night club— his motivation, his politics, his faith. But I feel a bit more able to reflect on the (few, I hope) Christian pastors and others who appeared to revel in the killing of people who were considered to be “them” as opposed to “us.”

But as Christians, politics should not take preeminence, and neither should moral judgments. The Laws of ancient Israel should not be the guide either. Christ should be our guide. What should take preeminence for a Christian is Christ. A Christian should be a living parable of God’s graciousness— in word, in service, and in association..