Why Evangelicals Struggle With Social Justice…

Consider the quote from Billy Graham a few decades ago:

“I am convinced that if the Church went back to its main task of proclaiming the Gospel and getting people converted to Christ, it would have a far greater impact on the social, moral, and psychological needs of men than any other thing it could possibly do. Some of the greatest social movements of history have come about as a result of men being converted to Christ.” (Quoted by Rodger Bassham in “Mission Theology: 1948-1975 Years of Worldwide Creative Tension,” 226)

These needs– social, moral, psychological–9781592440269 certainly makes sense. Perhaps if “converted to Christ” actually meant a radical leaving behind of what is old, and following Christ, such needs would indeed be met, and may even overflow into broader society as “salt and light”. But overall, Graham’s statement hasn’t really stood up well to history. As a black minister stated around the height of the Civil Rights movement infor the US,

the “law did for me and my people in America  what empty and highpowered Evangelical preaching never did for 100 years.” (Ibid., 227)

Many like to point to William Wilberforce, an Evangelical Christian,  who fought to end slavery in the British Empire in the early 19th century, and also fought for many other issues of social justice. But  for every Wilberforce, there were scores of Evangelical Christians historically who stood against social justice. Christians in the Southern United States, for example, took a very different stance to Wilberforce. Consider the quote by an Evangelical preacher from the mid 1800s:

“Let us then, North and South, bring our minds to comprehend two ideas, and submit to their irresistible power. Let the Northern philanthropist learn from the Bible that the relation of master and slave is not sin, per se. Let him learn that God says nowhere it is sin. Let him learn that sin is the transgression of the law; and where there is no law there is no sin, and that the Golden Rule may exist in the relations of slavery. Let him learn that slavery is simply an evil in certain circumstances. Let him learn that equality is only the highest form of social life; that subjection to authority, even slavery, may, in given conditions, be for a time better than freedom to the slave of any complexion. Let him learn that slavery, like all evils, has its corresponding and greater good; that the Southern slave, though degraded compared with his master, is elevated and ennobled compared with his brethren in Africa. Let the Northern man learn these things, and be wise to cultivate the spirit that will harmonize with his brethren of the South, who are lovers of liberty as truly as himself: And let the Southern Christian– nay, the Southern man of every grade– comprehend that God never intended the relation of master and lave to be perpetual. Let him give up the theory of Voltaire, that the negro is of a different species. Let him yield the semi-infidelity of Agassiz, that God created different races of the same species– in swarms, like bees– for Asia, Europe, America, Africa, and the islands of the sea. Let him believe that slavery, although not a sin, is a degraded condition,– the evil, the curse on the South,– yet having blessings in its time to the South and to the Union. Let him know that slavery is to pass away in the fullness of Providence. Let the South believe this, and prepare to obey the hand that moves their destiny. (“Slavery Ordained of God,” by Rev. Fred A. Ross, D.D., 1857, pages 6-7)

Truthfully, I chose this quote as one of the more balanced, less bigoted, supporters of slavery. I could have chosen much worse. For example, I could have chosen a quote by Confederate States of America Vice President Alexander Stephens, of the same Protestant denomination as Ross, in a speech he gave challenging the notion that all are created equal:

“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” (Cornerstone Speech, Savannah Georgia, March 21, 1861)

I, instead, chose Ross’ quote because it shows pretty clearly one major reason that Evangelicals struggle with social justice–

#1.  Evangelicals have a tendency to support the past or the status quo. Evangelicals often idealize the Primitive 1st century church. Others may idealize the Reformers, the Puritans, or perhaps the church in the 1950s (among other times). <Perhaps this explains the tendency of Evangelicals in the United States, to align themselves with the American political right. Despite great areas for potential conflict, both groups tend to mythologize a preferred past.> In the previous quote, what Ross here was saying was that slavery is not an ideal thing, but since it presently exists, it must be ordained by God to exist, and so to take action to end it, is to act against God. Rather, we should support the status quo, and be prepared for slavery to disappear… in God’s own timing. The title page of the book is instructive as it quotes Romans 13:1, “The powers that be are ordained by God.” So social injustice exists because God wills it to be that way… at least for now. Unfortunately, to look at the present and at history as expressing God’s preferred ordained state of things, essentially blesses injustices, and tends to make us blind to the same injustices that those of the past were blind to.

Frankly, however, we should learn from the past. We should look at the, illegal actually, expulsion of Cherokee native Americans from the Southeast United States in 1838-1839, (well-described today as “The Trail of Tears”) as a great evil, unjustified Biblically, and unconscionable regardless of their citizen status. When we look to today and the future, we should learn and grow from that, and Evangelical Christians, above all others, should be horrified by the possibility of multiplying this horror with “carte blanche” executive expulsion of millions of those without citizen status in the US.

#2.  Evangelicals often have a poor theology of social justice because of the prioritization of evangelism. The term “because” is an admittedly loaded term, since there is no automatic causal relationship between the two. But there is  certainly a connection. If one takes the five major attitudes (theological perspectives) that Christians have regarding social action (avoidance, convenience, social gospel, ulterior motive, and holism), the most common tend to be Convenience and Ulterior Motive. Convenience view is that social ministry or social action is fine, even commendable, as long as it does not get in the way of “real” Great Commission ministry. Ulterior Motive view is that social ministry is great and justified if, and only if, it can be used to direct people to “real” Great Commission ministry. Great Commission ministry I am using to describe the three-fold description from Matthew 28 of conversion, baptism, and spiritual training (and am not here going to deal with the question of whether these are the only valid GC ministries). Both Convenience and Ulterior Motive viewpoints devalue social ministry or social action. What we don’t prioritize, we don’t value. What we don’t value, we tend to do poorly.

Additionally, some take a view like Billy Graham did in his quote at the top of this post that suggests that if people are successfully evangelized, social ministry and social justice will tend to take care of themselves. This hasn’t proven to be true. The early church struggled immensely with societal issues. They did not “just get worked out.” In fact, Evangelical groups often unwittingly perpetuate injustices. It has long been noted that the growth of Evangelical or Charismatic groups in Central America has had little to no impact on societal evils. Part of this comes from the common Evangelical viewpoint I like to call “Apocalypticism’– I mean by that the idea that if this world will pass away, and a new heaven and earth will endure, present sins and injustices really don’t matter all that much. We need to focus on that which is spiritual and eternal. This view sounds good, until we test it against Christ’s declaration of an imminent Kingdom of God, and the call of Christians to be a part of the call towards radical transformation, both within and without. While I do agree that history does not appear to support a post-millennial view of social progress, to simply embrace a Jainist or Hindu (Kali yuga) inevitability of cosmic corruption, or perhaps a Benedictine view of separation from the world, is ultimately inconsistent with our call as Christians.

#3. Evangelicals tend to like to generalize social problems. One might call it whitewashing… an intentional minimization of social concerns. Evangelicals have difficulty transitioning from abstract truths to practical truths– they are better at dogma than applying dogma to praxis. Consider the movement in the US in the last few months, “Black Lives Matter.” A lot of Evangelicals expressed dislike for the term, preferring to say “All Lives Matter.” While the second statement is certainly true, it is also part of the long-standing tradition of maintaining blindspots by using general, although true, language. In the 1800s, Christians could tacitly support slavery while speaking vaguely about the “brotherhood of man.”  Consider the (American) Declaration of Independence that starts out as

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The initial draft of the Declaration of Independence had a paragraph on concerns regarding slavery and race. While admittedly, the language is mixed– both inspirational and a bit racist– eventually, this was stricken from the final version. It seems that those (commonly Christians, or Christian-influenced Deists) who sought to retain slavery, wanted to remove explicit condemnation for enslavement, while perfectly happy to keep ambiguous, high-sounding statements of human equality and unalienable rights.

Sadly, general language promotes blind spots. Here in the Philippines, for example, there has been a rash of extrajudicial killings (criminal homicides) of those involved in the drug trade. If Evangelical Christians want to sound good while maintaining a blindspot, they can talk about the “sanctity of human life” or “All lives matter.” But if they want to face the problem directly rather than ignore it, they should say “Drug lords lives matter” or “Drug dealers lives matter.” I really don’t expect to hear that language anytime soon.

——————

William Wilberforce was a great champion of social justice, in part, because he did not generalize. He did not simply say that all men have rights… he focused a light on the deplorable practice of black slavery. He did not simply talk about the well-beings of laborers, but focused attention on specific abuses such as in child labor. He did not simply express support of justice, but supported specific justice and reform in how prisoners were handled. He did not talk vaguely about good Christian stewardship of Creation, but (actually) supported legislation protecting the well-being of farm animals.

Wilberforce, did not presume that the past or the present define God’s preferred future. He did not assume that the “powers that be,” ordained by God, don’t need to be challenged and held accountable to serve God and the public good effectively.

Wilberforce did not a focus so much on the hereafter that his theological understanding of God’s call to Christians is muddy and sporadic. One might say that he saw that Lord’s prayer “… Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” as not just a passive wish, but a call for personal commitment to partner with God.

A commitment to evangelism, churchplanting, and discipleship does not demand a watering down or half-hearted commitment to social justice.

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Theostorying as Creative Reflection

Excerpt from Chapter two of Theo-Storying:

Theostorying is “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.”

Let’s work through the proposed definition.

1.  Creative reflection. Theostorying should neither be a rehashing of dogma, nor be (inherently) heterodox. It should, however, push and challenge our understanding of truth. It should look at theology from a different perspective. It should provide a new voice to old questions, as well as new questions.

2. Crafted artistically. Storying (both the creation of stories and the telling of stories) is an art. Storying in this case would normally be a short story or anecdote rather than a novel or epic. It should draw interest and entice the listener. But regardless of the form, creativity and imagination are required to create the story and transmit the story.

3. Medium of the story. The story is the medium but it is also inextricably intertwined with the message. If one ends with “the moral of the story is” or “the lesson we can learn from this is,” such a lesson would only be one prepackaged idea drawn from the story… not the total sum of all possibilities of the story. If the story could be adequately summed up in one sentence, the story, does not adequately inspire theological reflection.

4. Experiencing the story. We are given the opportunity to be drawn into the story. We tend to learn best through reflection on our own life experiences (and sometimes through the life experiences of others). A good story allows us to join into the story… often from the perspective of different characters. Doing so, we experience, reflect, and learn.

5. Challenged by the story. A good story doesn’t just tell us what we already know, or what we already believe, or what we already believe we know. It challenges us culturally, theologically, and personally. An example of a personal challenge: The parable of the ewe lamb, challenged King David. The story did not challenge him culturally or theologically… he knew theologically and culturally what should be done and the story did not question that. Rather, it challenged him personally when he was told that he was experiencing the story from the wrong perspective. He was experiencing it as the kingly judge, when he should be experiencing it in the role of the rich neighbor.

6. Inspire further questions. Good theostories don’t just give the full answer. They inspire questions. They might inspire questions because the story seems unfinished, or because the story doesn’t explain why things went in one direction versus another, or because it suggests conclusions that are personally uncomfortable.

What are some good questions associated with theostories?

  • What next? In the Bible, we don’t know what happens to Jonah after chapter 4 of the book. We don’t know (for sure) what happens to Japheth’s daughter. What did the Prodigal Son’s elder brother do next? In missions we often do case studies where the situation is set up but the ending is intentionally unfinished. We are supposed to place ourselves within a specified role in the story and say what we would do next and why. It is highly educational and far superior to memorizing a bunch of rules.

  • What if? What if pharoah had let Moses and the people of Israel go without a fight? What if Judas had confessed and asked for forgiveness? What if Job did curse God? What if Zedekiah had stood up to the power elite in Judah?

  • Why? Why did Judas decide to betray Christ? Why did God place enticing fruit in the garden and then tell His inquisitive creations not to eat it? Why did God save us through a blood sacrifice? (Was God “handcuffed” into doing it that way, or did He choose that way as a lesson for us?)tumblr_inline_mij0dqjvoi1qz4rgp

  • Who? Whose perspective do you connect to in the story. What if you placed yourself in a different perspective. What if you were not one of the Israelites invading Canaan, but a person living in Jericho desperately trying to protect your family? What if you were the Levite, in the story of the Good Samaritan, hurrying to your next appointment… perhaps afraid of being attacked, with no medical skills)… how would you respond seeing the dying (possible dead) man… honestly?

But there is more. Stories are part of the message. In this, one is going along with the popular Marshall McLuhan statement that “The Medium is the Message,” the idea that the message as it is received is an amalgamation of the medium used and the purposed content. There is a growing belief that theology is inadequately handled by propositional truths. Stories are not merely a vehicle to transmit a propositional truth. If stories were transporting truth without affecting truth or being a part of that truth, at the end of the storying process, the hearer or reader could simply extract that truth and discard the story, like the waxed paper that can be discarded from a fast food lunch. However, the story IS part of the truth. Narrative Theology and Asian Theologies place a greater focus on the story over just “facts.” Likewise, new ways of interpreting the Bible, to a large extent a book of stories, sees the story as part of the teaching.

Preaching and Teaching and Storying

Nice chapter/article in the book Preach the Word513spybqhtl-_sx397_bo1204203200_, edited by Greg Haslam.  The Chapter (28) is “Preaching from Narrative” by  Chris Wright. The chapter is fairly short but has good info in it… especially on the nature of narrative. Under How Do Stories Actually Work?, Wright puts some good notes. I will just give the main points here, with my own thoughts after.

  • Stories express cultural world-views. To me, this is a strong point. Often worldview is described in terms of categories and propositions (I did that, in fact, in my book on cultural anthrology). But we really think in terms of stories, and the world-view that that guides our beliefs, and from that our behaviors and interpretation of experiences, is more about stories than facts. As such, to hit someone “deep” one is better off using a resonant, or at least relevant, story.
  • Stories are used to preserve people’s identities.  Each of us exists in relationships that go beyond simply I and You. Relationships also include We and They. To a large extent how “We” is defined is in terms of what stories are shared. That is part of the reason that a new person joining a close group feels alienated, at least for awhile. The new person doesn’t share the stories of the others. It is only after the person shares enough new stories with this group, that he or she feels truly part of the We identity.
  • Stories teach moral values and transmit group memories across the generations. Stories are often better at expressing moral truths than propositions. While a statement such as “Thou shalt not bear false witness” is pretty straightforward, it is actually in that straightforwardness that we get lost. What does it really mean to bear false witness? The answer generally comes in a story. The concreteness helps. Does, for example, bearing false witness include telling jokes, or expressing a story that fictional? No, but that is more obvious in a story. For example, story where an individual falsely accuses a person of wrong-doing or falsely alibis a wrong-doer makes it clear that this sin is not simply saying something that is fictional… it is tied to motive and malice. Also because they define groups, they help provide continuity in a group even as the group changes over time.
  • Stories engage our imagination.  I have talked enough about this elsewhere, particularly in Theo-Storying.  A good story draws us in, and we essentially experience something that, technically, did not happen to us.
  • Stories are dependent on having a well-constructed plot. You might think this is obvious, but it is not. Many a story (such as in a movie) has a weak plot, due to the apparent belief that having good special effects, sex or violence, humor (whether witty, ribald, or physical), or a twist ending can substitute. Economically, sometimes they are right. But a story with a poor plot tends to lose steam quick. It does not engage the imagination. It fails to have impact.
  • Stories need good characters. Characters need to have a stamp of reality to them. Even robots or aliens in science fiction stories need to have an authenticity to them. A failure often in the church has been to develop stories too much after the model of morality plays… with wooden saints and equally 2-dimensional sinners. This is strange considering how the Bible tends to present humans as 3-dimensional, both wondrously made and flawed.
  • Some stories have gaps in them. I would argue that ALL stories have gaps in them. For non-fiction stories  this is true since a plot essentially picks bits and pieces of what happened and seeks to combine them with causal relationships into a consistent plot. People don’t have stories… they have life, that can be rearranged into an infinite number of stories. For fiction stories, there are gaps because we only see and here what is “on stage.” Before the opening of the curtain, we don’t know much. After the closing of the curtain, we don’t know much. And off stage is a mystery. But that is a good thing. It gets us to think and imagine. In fact, filling in too many of the gaps may be detrimental to the story. For example, in many classic jokes, the story has three parts. Two parts to set the pattern, and a third to have a surprising break in the pattern. Two is enough to set the pattern… one does not have to list 50 parts supporting the pattern (even if such a high number may have an element of accuracy to it).
  • Good stories invite the reader to be the judge. It is often tempting for the storyteller to tie up all of the loose ends. But it is often better to allow the reader to judge for himself or herself. In fact, many stories in the Bible appear to be arranged for rabbinical purposes. That is, they are meant to be read an interacted with in a group setting for religious and moral education. The story of Jonah, for example has lots of questions unanswered, and many opportunities for hearers to question and come to their own conclusions. This is not a bad thing. Sometimes in church we are too quick to tell people how to read a story and what to think of it. This can be a mistake. For example, in Galatians 2, Paul tells the story of how he chastised Peter and Barnabas for eating with Jews when members of the church of Jerusalem were present. In church, this story is often relayed as if we must accept the story as Paul being right and the others being wrong. However, if readers take the time to bring themselves into the story, many might discover that Paul’s behavior was not above reproach here. Perhaps some will not see the story as primarily Paul versus Peter, but the problems of not discussing things properly.

I would like to add a quote from a different section of the chapter:

Avoid being too dogmatic.  We need to remember that a story can have many levels of meaning and new meanings will often suggest themselves as we take time to ponder and reflect upon them. Furthermore, other people will often see meanings that would never have occurred to us, and people from other cultures will often see a story in a totally different light, which can lead to a fascinating exchange of ideas. I think God gives us stories and says, ‘Well there you are. What do you make of that?’ Sincere there is such a tremendous richness in the stories of the Bible we should avoid giving the impression that there is one solitary monochrome meaning and, once you have explained that, you can go on to the next one.

Stories, like metaphors, have a wide range of meanings, although not infinite. When we say Jesus is the Good Shepherd, this metaphor has a rich diverseness to it that cannot be narrowed to a single meaning. If it could be narrowed to a single meaning, the metaphor would be unnecessary. The same is true with stories… as a rich collection of symbols and metaphors.

Of course, this provides a hermeneutical challenge. Centuries ago, scholars saw the Bible as have several layers of meaning, such as literal, spiritual, and allegorical. Present thinking is to see the Bible as having only one meaning… the literal. So when one reads a passage of Scripture, one must seek that one single meaning. While recognizing the dangers of allegorical interpretation (among others), stories, like metaphors, resist a single interpretation. Even focusing on “author intention” may not be enough. When I tell a story, I often have more than one message or interpretation… even for fictional stories. For non-fiction, my selection of the events I use and connect may limit the range of possible interpretations, but non-fiction has a special “muddiness” to it that even more so draws us into the story with important different perspectives. For example, why did Judas betray Jesus? Was he seeking to “force Jesus hand?” Was he disenchanted with the lack of direction of the “revolution?” Was he possessed by the devil? Was he simply greedy? The fact that the Bible doesn’t clearly tell us why may (as Walter Wangerin pointed out) in fact point out to us some acts are just inexcusable and unjustifiable.

Or maybe not.

 

 

 

 

Designed to Fail or Float

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kwd3516-sunken-boatImagine a missionary couple working among a group of tribes located along a jungle river. To reach these scattered tribes they need a bat to travel the river. They have found some scrap iron and other materials left behind by an oil-exploration crew. Using these materials, they began to build a boat, but they know little about physics and boat building. In the end the boat turns out to be heavier than the water it displaces.

Anyone who has studied elementary physics knows that an object that is heavier than the water it displaces will sink. “Oh, but in this case the Holy Spirit will overrule, and the boat will float. After all, it was built for God’s work,” some might say. No. The missionaries were foolish. They should have built the boat in keeping with the laws of nature.

This same principle applies to presenting the gospel to people of another culture. Since we do not expect God to overrule when we go against natural laws, why do we expect Him to overrule when we go against cultural or behavioral laws?

Just as there is underlying order in nature, so there is underlying order in human behavior. The behavioral sciences are concerned with discovering the underlying order in human behavior just as the natural sciences are concerned with discovering the order in nature. True science, natural and behavioral, is concerned with discovering the order in God’s creation.

The missionary who uses cultural anthropology as a tool in developing a missionary strategy is not trying to work apart from the Holy Spirit but in harmony with Him.

                        -From “Cultural Anthropology: A Christian Perspective” by Stephen A. Grunlan & Marvin K. Mayers. (p. 20 of the 1988 edition)

A classic error in Evangelical circles is to presume God is at work in miracles (violation of natural laws) and God is not at work within the laws of nature. How ridiculous is that. The greatest miracle of God was Genesis 1 and 2, where God actually established those very  laws.

But that is even more true of laws of behavioral science. I understand the confusion regarding natural laws. Often when we see God act in the Bible it seems to be in violating laws of nature. While I feel that view is highly simplistic, it is completely unjustifiable when it comes to behavioral science. In the Bible, God clearly acts through nations and people— judgment is far more often executed by invading nations than by miraculous floods or plagues. The Fall of Man, and the crucifixion of Christ may have been divinely ordained or divinely permitted (depending on your theology), but they were most definitely in line with human psychology and sociology.

A missionary and a minister is wise to have a firm understanding human nature, sociology, anthropology, psychology, communication theory, group dynamics— many different components of the behavioral sciences. This information doesn’t tell us how to avoid God… it tells us much of how God works.

Having and utilizing this knowledge is like making a boat that naturally floats rather than naturally sinks (hoping God would overcome our own ignorance of His laws). Of course, building a boat that floats is not enough. We need God to guide us where to go, protect us,  and show us how to use it.  But in all likelihood, if we make a boat that naturally sinks, God will seek a better shipwright to guide and bless.

 

 

 

Images of Holy Defect

Defects are not always bad. Defects, after all, simply are things that show variance from someone’s idea of perfection. But perfection is not only unattainable… it is also unidentifiable.  Plato’s idealized forms don’t really exist… here or anywhere else.

But what do I mean by “Holy Defect.” This doesn’t mean “defective holiness.” Rather, I am suggesting that flaws may be sanctified, set apart by God as– for a lack of a better word– good.

I would like to suggest a few images/metaphors to explain and reinforce this point.

  1. Thorn in the flesh

For if I do wish to boast I will not be foolish, for I will be speaking the truth; but I refrain from this, so that no one will credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me.  Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. 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. Therefore 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.             (II Corinthians 12:6-10)

I don’t know what this “thorn is.” Some suggest that it is a physical infirmity. Could be… it involves the flesh after all. Some suggest it was feelings of guilt for killing Christians in the past. I doubt that– it would be a poor choice of metaphor if it was (but could be). It could be some sort of sexual temptation or struggle. Paul uses flesh as a metaphor for, well, carnality. I work with a counseling center, and certainly Romans 7:18ff sounds a lot like what people say who struggle with sexual issues. But no one knows for sure.

But one thing I do know… it is a defect. Not only is it a defect; but it is a defect that God seems to prefer that he maintains. The defect gives humility. It demonstrates God’s grace and power.

2.  Penitent Publican.publican_and_pharisee

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:  “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed[a] thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’  But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”            (Luke 8:9-14)

Both of the individuals had defects. However, the Pharisee tried to hide his defects behind a mask of piety and self-righteousness. The publican (tax collector) freely admitted his defects and went away justified (holy) before God.

3.  Wounded HealerJesus with Nail print in hand

The term came originally from Carl Jung suggesting that out of the woundedness of a psychologist, comes the desire to help others who are wounded. However, more than providing a motivation for healing, woundedness also empowers healing.

In Henri Nouwen’s book” The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society,”

A wounded healer is someone who can listen to a person in pain without having to speak about his or her own wounds. When we have lived through a painful depression, we can listen with great attentiveness and love to a depressed friend without mentioning our experience. Mostly it is better not to direct a suffering person’s attention to ourselves. We have to trust that our own bandaged wounds will allow us to listen to others with our whole beings. That is healing.

In Isaiah 53, the Suffering Servant is described as one who by whose stripes we are healed.

Wounds are essentially defects… defects that help us care for the wounds of others.

4.  Kintsukuroi.  (Golden Repair)

I have discussed this before in a couple of blogs:kintsukuroi

Blog #1

Blog #2

Additionally, I have a blog on a related topic, Wabi-Sabi

The idea is that there is greater beauty and craftsmanship in a beautiful repair than in hiding damage. Likewise, in a person, the power of God is demonstrated more clearly in scars, rather than their absence. This may remind one of Jesus who in His resurrected form had scars of His crucifixion as evidence of God’s power to heal– giving us hope of such healing.

5.  Chipped Cup100_1296

As a final thought, consider the following quote:

“The pride of the cup is in the drink, its humility in the serving. What, then do its defects matter?” -Dag Hammarskjöld

 

 

 

 

In Service to One’s Countries

It is American Independence Day (as well as “Philippine American Friendship Day”). Americans commonly take patriotism/nationalism pretty seriously. I have never really known how to take that… especially in those who like to mix nationalism and religion.

Years ago I was an officer in the United States Navy.

Dag Hammarskjold, 2nd General Secretary of the United Nations

I remember the first time that someone said, “Thank you for your service to our country.” I always found that strange. After all, I was doing my job. I can’t really say that I was doing it out of some deep nationalistic fervor. Curiously, although I have been out of the Navy for decades, I have been getting more of this now than before. Not sure why.

But I find some value in a quote from Dag Hammarskjold:

From generations of soldiers and government officials on my father’s side I inherited a belief that no life was more satisfactory than one of selfless service to your country – or humanity. This service required a sacrifice of all personal interests, but likewise the courage to stand up unflinchingly for your convictions. From scholars and clergymen on my mother’s side, I inherited a belief that, in the very radical sense of the Gospels, all men were equals as children of God, and should be met and treated by us as our masters in God.”

… the explanation of how men should live a life of active social service in full harmony with himself as a member of the community of the spirit, I found in the writings of those great medieval mystics for whom “self-surrender” had been the way of self-realization, and who in “singleness of mind” and “inwardness” had found strength to say Yes to every demand which the needs of their neighbors made them face and to say Yes also to every fate life had in store for them. … Love— that much misused and misinterpreted word— for them meant simply an overflowing of the strength with which they felt themselves filled when living in true self-oblivion. And this love found natural expression in an unhesitant fulfillment of duty and an unreserved acceptance of life, whatever it brought them personally of toil, suffering— or happiness.

 -Quote from Forward of book, “Markings”– Forward by W.H. Auden (1964) quoting Hammarskjold.

He seems to believe in taking himself out of the picture. His faith and service to country or to humanity involves a single-mindedness of service that takes selfishness out of his motivation. Dag Hammarskjold appeared to live this. I don’t suppose it is easy.

For me that singleness is seen in serving 4 countries.

  1.  The country of my birth. Although I did serve in the armed forces of that country, I certainly think that I serve that country better now than then, even if I have no formal call to duty in that arena anymore, and even, if in my home country, military and political service seems to be the only type of national service that is applauded.
  2. The country in which I presently serve. I have lived in the Philippines for 12 years. I am a stranger in a strange land, but have sought in my small way to have a positive impact.
  3. As Dag Hammarskjold came to understand, one’s service to one’s country can include the “country” of humanity.  Loving one’s neighbors AND enemies involves serving all people and peoples.
  4. Finally, one should serve “God’s country.” As Christians, our first country is a “country of our own”… one set up for us by God. This country does not negate the other “countries.”  As it says in Hebrews 11:13-16 part of a chapter as much about service to God’s country as it is about faith:

 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.  People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

For those celebrating American Independence Day (or any other nationalistic holiday)… enjoy. But live daily a life of Dependence on God… and serving others. Joyful serve your country… but serve your countries.

 

 

 

 

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.