Two Prayers of Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667)

O Lord, you have called me to open my hand,
that you might fill it:
but I would not open it;
I held the world fast,
and kept my hand shut,
and would not let it go.
But you alone can open it for me;
not my hand only, but my mouth;
not my mouth, but my heart also.
Grant that I may know nothing but you,
account all things a loss compared with you,
and endeavor to be transformed
to be like you.

Guide us, Lord,
in all the changes and varieties of the world;
that we may have evenness and tranquility of spirit:
that we may not grumble in adversity
nor  grow proud in prosperity,
but in serene faith surrender our souls
to your most divine will;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

<The two are “translated” into a more recent form of English. Source is from www.acollectionofprayers.com>

Judging Not?

I have been preaching through the Sermon on the Mount at church, and soon I will be getting to one of those veses that some people use as a weapon, and others act like it is not there. Some people seem to think that the verse supports a sort of radical “let it be” perspective. On the other side, some seem to have become so skilled at “explaining” the verse that it seems like they have explained it into non-existence.

As always, I try to find a middle position between two untenable extremes, but that hardly answers things. Two obvious (I think) points are:

  • Judging can be hypocritical, since we often are tempted to judge while pretending that we are above being judged.
  • Judging can commonly be wrong since we tend to be incompetent to judge well. We can see the beautiful whitewash on the sepulchre, but see nothing beneath the thin layer of color.

Recently, however, I noticed another issue. My wife and I like to watch crime dramas and reality crime shows (judges us at your own peril). There were two recent cases that were shown on reality crime that got me thinking. The first was a wife and mother in Texas (I believe). She was a church-going woman, and noted as a fine upstanding Christian and fervent in her Bible reading. Oh sure there were quirks that made one wonder about her integrity, but overall, highly regarded. She was eventually charged and convicted of poisoning several people who were close to her.

The other was a pastor from Pennsylvania. He was a popular preacher and expositor of the word. Yet he was a chronic womanizer, and killed two of his wives.

What was perhaps most problematic was they were able to kill multiple times because they were seen as such unlikely killers.

This got me thinking. We often think of judging as an activity of condemnation. But in these two cases, the problem was that they were judged favorable for having the trappings of being “good Christians.” It seems to me that if this form of judging is just as wrong as the other. And since Jesus went out of His way to point out that we often fail to see the evil or emptiness in people’s hearts because of an external piety (whited sepulchres again), I think it is fair to say that Jesus was at least as concerned with this second form of judging as the first.

So while I still struggle with how best to live a life of “judging not,” I am pretty sure that avoiding the temptation to judge unfavorably is no worse than to judge favorably.

 

 

Adventures in Pastoral Theology

I have decided to create a new blog titled “Adventures in Pastoral Theology.” I have noticed that my posts on Munson Missions Musings have become more and more tied to pastoral theology, pastoral care, pastoral counseling, spiritual direction, theological reflection, and the like. Therefore, to avoid the website becoming les and less on missions, I have divided the site.

For awhile, I will probably be putting some of my better PC articles from this site or our Bukal Life Care website. I will gradually start adding new content.

Here is the website:  https://adventures-in-pastoral-theology.org/

Ending Well

We are all going to die.

And that is okay. Oh, I know you might say that Jesus is returning any day and will take the redeemed meeting with them that had not “slept” in the clouds. Statistically speaking, however, history is decidedly on the side of “it is appointed unto man once to die” for your fate and mine. And nothing is wrong with that. If we are comforted that Christ will come… why would it be any less comforting that we are a couple of heartbeats away from eternity?

But that seems to be the thing about being human. Death bothers us. Maybe it shouldn’t… but it does. It does a lot. It does so much that many Christian leaders fail to plan for their death. Erik Erikson notes that near the end of life one must deal with integrity versus despair— struggling with the impending threat of non-being. In ministry, people can struggle with this or more  confusedly, act as if one will never die and not train up a replacement.

I recall a former pastor who claimed to be referencing Jerry Fallwell when he expressed the belief that organizations rise and fall by their leaders. Within the context of his point, the pastor was actually saying that one should hardly bother to train up a replacement because things are going to fail anyway once that visionary leader is gone. I can’t help but think that was simply a justification of laziness and hubris, rather than doubts about his mortality. Curiously, Jerry Fallwell died, and our former pastor was pushed out of the church… without such collapse. Go figure.

But organizations and groups die as well. So do churches. So do websites. Times change and structures that were important at one time lose their purpose for being.

I am mentioning this because I am considering bringing this blog to the end.

Why? Am I nearing death?  It is certainly possible, but I have no reason to assume that.   But I am changing. For much of my time in the Philippines, my focus has been on Missions. It is my topic and passion. However, starting in 2009, I became administrator of a counseling center… and then registrar of a chaplaincy certifier. And then an instructor in a number of pastoral care topics. I find that much of my research in recent years has been in terms of pastoral care topics. My missions research has been growing stale. And those areas that I have been continuing to take seriously have been those areas of missions that overlap with other fields. These include:

  • Contextual Theology (Missions Contextualization and Systematic Theology)
  • Missionary Member Care (Missions and Pastoral Care)
  • Interreligious Dialogue (Missions and Pastoral Counseling)

Additionally, I have been doing more in terms of Pastoral Theology (Pastoral Care and Practical Theology) and the somewhat related topic of Theological Reflection.

As such, I find less and less new to say on missions that I have not already shared in my over 1000 previous posts.

So does that mean that this is my last post. Probably not. But I will probably start a new blog that is more in the area of my newer focuses. 

Should I stop now completely? I am getting more views per day on average than I have ever gotten in my 8.5 years of doing this blog. It seems like that would be ending well. End with strength and transition.

But I understand the other side. One doesn’t want to let go. Like many ministry leaders… it feels strange to give up on one’s pet work or project. It always seems worthwhile to keep things going past their usefulness.

Maybe this blog will not end well…. just slowly peter out. Or maybe I will get a new fire in my belly and have more things to say.

Time will tell.

Scratching Where it NEVER Itches

My daughter is a nursing student at a hospital here in the Philippines. She was looking through some of the reading materials that were left lying around. One caught her attention enough to take a picture of every page. It was a “gospel tract.” Fairly long one. I will put a few quotes here.

In response to the possible objection that spending an eternity in hell is unreasonable (or I would probably reword it as unjust), the writer states:

“It is obvious to everyone but ourselves that eternity in hell is the correct sentence for lawbreakers. A preacher once said, ‘The moment when you take your first step through the gates of hell, the only thing you will hear is all of creation standing to its feet and applauding and praising God because God has rid the earth of you. That’s how not good you are.’

… Not only does God see sin as exceedingly sinful, He is the One against whom each and every offense is primarily committed. If anyone should be angry about sin, it is God Himself. And He is. And that anger will last for an eternity.”

In a different section titled The Inevitable Verdict, the writer says,

“If God finds you guilty, and He will, you will be instantly whisked off to God’s eternal prison, hell. This is your final resting place, but there will be no rest. God’s righteous, holy, indignant wrath will rest on you for all of eternity.

Your first day of activities involves weeping, gnashing your teeth, and torment. Your ten-thousandth day is no different from your first; your suffering will never decrease in intensity. You would give anything for a drop of water or a ray of sunshine, but it never comes. Ever.

You will find no comfort in being surrounded with friends. Hell will not be an eternal party; it will be eternal punishment. And the One inflicting the punishment will be the One against whom you have committed all of your crimes: God Himself.

God, the just judge of the entire world, is going to judge you, and He is willing and able to pour out His anger and wrath on you forever and ever and ever. His holiness, righteousness, and love demand it.

You will receive only ongoing, unrelenting, and intense misery— eternal, conscious torment with no reprieve. You will forever receive the just reward for the unrighteous life you have willingly and knowingly lived.

Is there any hope for sinners like you and me? Is there any way we can escape the horrors of hell?”

I think that is enough. Here are some random thoughts to the presentation. Some are theological, while others are practical. However, my biggest complaint is the first one.

  1.  It scratches where it doesn’t itch. A survey a few years ago found that only about 3% of Americans are afraid of hell. I suspect the writer knows this because he spends 20 pages trying to convince readers that one SHOULD be afraid of hell. He seems more interested in convincing people that Hell is horrible, than that God is loving. But why do that at all? If a person’s itch is on their arm why scratch their shoulder? If a smoker is worried about money, why focus on cosmetic blemishes caused by smoking? Why not focus on how expensive smoking is short-term as well as long-term? Why not scratch where it itches? Salvation brings blessings, meaning and purpose, a place in God’s family, ability to endure struggles, give victory, and more. Why focus on the most negative (and least valued) motivations in this century to reach people?
  2. It focuses on the least interesting (or at least most ambiguous) metaphor. There are many metaphors used in the Bible for salvation. There is the shepherd seeking a person as a lost sheep. There is the adult choosing to adopt an orphan. There is the father seeking a wayward son. There is a person who liberates another from bondage. There is God as a sheltering refuge. There is God as a vinedresser grafting in new branches to an old vine. Instead the writer uses, and reifies, the metaphor of the courtroom. There is value in this metaphor— that is why Paul uses it. But it also places God in the most ambiguous position. God is the judge seeking to pass sentence… while Jesus, as God’s Son, is seen as the one acting as a mediator and payer of debt. This seems to place God the Father as wrathful while God the Son as loving.  It looks like God is schizophrenic (Mark 10:45 has a metaphor with a similar problem). Of course, this problem comes when one takes a metaphor and stretches it too far. God the Father is FAR MORE than a just God seeking to express his “just” anger against EVERY SINGLE PERSON WHO EVER LIVED, into hell for ever and ever and ever, The Father is, after all, the one who sent the Son to rescue mankind as an act of unjustified mercy. This brings the next point.
  3. The writer spends too much time defending God. Over and over again the writer says that God is just. But why would he being doing this? I think it is because he really wants us to condemn ourselves. If we can buy into the idea that God is just, and that we have violated God’s law, then we can embrace the idea that hell is where we belong. But does God really need defending? And more to the point, are we really supposed to be intellectually comfortable with the idea that our Creator truly hates us and wants us to exist forever in torment? I feel that one reason the writer spends so much time defending God is that there is a bit of an unraveling in the logic because of the next point.
  4. God is not all that just. Now before you get all bothered by this point, hear me out. The Old Testament describes two coexising qualities of God throughout… God’s justice and God’s mercy. Mercy, is, in part at least, the quality of suspending justice due to compassion. Thus, God is just… but His justice is limited by His compassion. In the New Testament, John notes that the quality that best defines God is Love, not Justice. I don’t think that it is correct to say that God is fully loving and fully just. There is an imbalance, and that imbalance is in our favor.
  5. God, as described in the gospel tract, is not all that just even in human terms, not just Biblical terms. The writer suggests that God is just for punishing even though we have no option but be guilty, that we have no formal knowledge of standards we must live by, and that everlasting torture is appropriate. This is expressed even though by every standard of justice that we have… including in the Bible (“eye for an eye” is meant to show that punishment must not exceed the act) … would make the activity seem unjust. The most comon emotion recorded of Jesus, the most complete revelation of God, is His compassion and showed great ability to spend time with, and even enjoy the company of, sinners. Also, Paul, who popularized the metaphor of salvation in terms of the courtroom, told unbelievers (in the book of Acts) that God has chosen to overlook their sins because they did not know better. It is hardly surprising that the metaphor of the courtroom is passed over to other metaphors as the role of grace is emphasized in Paul’s writings. (I am not trying to minimize the issue of sin, but to note that the Bible expresses it in a more nuanced way than is commonly expressed in morality plays.)
  6. Some of the hermeneutics in the tract is pretty awful. The writer says that if one is angry than one is guilty of murder, violating one of God’s 10 commandments. Likewise if one has sexual fantasies than one is violating the commandment about adultery. If that was so, than certainly anyone must jump in and say that God is truly unjust since these actions do not violate the letter of the law. A just judge must follow the law. Of course, the writer is drawing from the sermon on the mount, but Jesus did NOT say that anger is the same as murder, or that fantasies are the same as adultery. They are different things. That interpretation violates any sound interpretation of the respective passages. (And it is so unnecessary. The Bible says these things are sinful. That is really enough.) Additionally, the Bible does not actually say that Hell is a place of Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT). Now I know this is a hot button topic for some. I will simply say that I don’t know what hell is like… but just note that describing it in Revivalistic terms rather than what the Bible actually says tends to undermine the strength of the argument. Clearly it is a bad place, but going beyond what the Bible says should make one question the writer. Bad hermeneutics tends to lead to distrust in the reader.
  7. The tract is WAY too long. It takes 20 pages just to place the reader in hell. It takes reading that God is unjust and angry for 20 pages before one finally gets to the area where God is presented as (unjustly) being merciful through Christ.
  8. The expressed goal of the writer is to scare the reader. Is that really a good path to loving God?  Maybe, but I doubt it.

To note, I am an Evangelical (although its ties to politics and to nationalism in many circles has made me want to distance myself from the term of late). As such, I generally agree with the basic massage. We need to seek God’s love and mercy to be saved by Him. And this comes through Christ. But as Jackson Wu humorously demonstrated in his book “One Gospel for All Nations,” one can take a lot of true, or at least theologically justifiable, statements and create a hideous monster of a gospel presentation. While there are some weak or doubtful statements in the presentation, the biggest problem is that it creates a hugely unappealing presentation of the gospel. True is never good enough. One must scratch where it itches.

Maslow and Culture, Part 1

Consider for the moment Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Image result for maslow's hierarchy

As the theory goes, one cannot go to the next level of need until the lower ones are satisfied. This is not so much a proven truth, but a useful way of looking at things. However, typically, this hierarchy of needs is also used by many as a guide for healthy thought and living.

But is it?

Consider a different way of showing this pyramid.

Maslow

In this case, moving “up” the pyramid is moving to the right on the graph. The blue line shows whether the focus is on a person as a social being or as an individuated being. For PHYSIOLOGICAL NEEDS, one is focusing on what keeps body and soul together… so clearly the focus is on the individual (food, water, shelter, air, etc.). As one moves towards SAFETY AND SECURITY, one is now moving towards the more emotional and social aspects of a person. Few if any really feel safe or secure alone or socially disconnected. As such, there is a greater recognition of the person as a social being.

As one moves to the next level, LOVE AND BELONGINGNESS, there is the greatest recognition of a person as a social being. We were meant to be part of WE, not an aggregate of I’s. We are meant to be with others and part of others.

As one moves to the next higher level, SELF-ESTEEM, the social aspect of a person is focused on less. Abraham Maslow saw self-esteem as having an internal component and an external component. The external component is status and respect given to a person from one’s social web of connections. The internal component is the feeling of self-worth one gets through internal personal evaluation and validation.

<Note:  Some don’t agree with this. They suggest that one should not allow external influences have an impact on one’s self-esteem. However, since perhaps the only ones who can truly live through internal validation alone are the truly shameless, or perhaps the sociopathic, I am not so sure that this school of thought is worthy of embracing (at least at its extremes).>

The top level is SELF-ACTUALIZATION. This is “the full realization of one’s creative, intellectual, or social potential.” While Maslow did point out some famous people he considered to be self-actualized, he noted that fame had nothing to do with their status… it was about reaching their own individual potential, regardless of outside identification. As such, we have swung back fully to the individuated self and away from the social being.

But is this true?

Consider a story from the TV Show “House”  (Season 3, Episode 13).

In this episode, Dr. Foreman was working to diagnose and treat a 16 year old male of Romani (“gypsy”) heritage. He is found to be quite knowledgeable and intelligent and is seen by Dr. Foreman as having great potential in medicine if he would get further education and move into medical work. However, the young man has no interest in that. He is tightly connected to his family and Romani clan. As such, they have a strong influence on what he does. He doesn’t want to go against them or separate from them. The story ends somewhat unresolved. Dr. Foreman is saddened that the teenager rejects the possibility of living up to his potential in terms of a medical career. He also, however, seems a bit saddened to realize that in his quest to advance his career, he has given up a lot… in fact leaving behind family, and lacking, in many ways any deep relationships. Who has chosen the better path?

If one looks at the Hierarchy of Needs:

Both are okay in terms of physiological needs and safety and security (at least after the Romani teen was healed of his illness).

Both also seem to have decent self-esteem. Dr. Foreman is recognized as a very competent physician. If he lacks self-esteem, he hides it well enough. The Romani teen also seems to have good self-esteem. He appears to be very affirmed by a loving family, and seems to like the trajectory his life is on.

There are, however, differences. Dr. Foreman has a social deficient life… living alone, invested in his job over all other aspects of his life, and rather disconnected from his family. Still, he might be seen by Maslow as self-actualized since he appears to be living out his calling and potential as a physician.  For the Romani teen, he seems to be well positioned in a loving and supportive family so he has no problems in terms of love and belongingness. However, he would never be seen as self-actualized since his potential in terms of medical science will never be achieved if he stays on the path he is on.

Now consider this story as a parable in terms of East versus West of what is ideal. Dr. Foreman expresses the ideal of Western culture. He is highly individuated (as the term is used by Murray Bowen) from his birth family. He has found what is he is good at and gained expertise in it, and has achieved external fame, and appears to be  living up to his potential. He is living the ideal of Western culture. The teenager is of Romani heritage, which has many aspects of Eastern culture. In it, family and community have greater import. He is far less individuated. However, it is within that supportive structure that he finds his place and his meaning. As such he has great self-esteem that comes from affirmation of loved ones, and the opportunity to live out his potential as a social being, even if not as an individuated being.

Continued in Part 2.