Rick Warren's foreword for Should We Fire God?
Like so many people, my Wednesday was bookended by reading reports of two black men being killed by police. This morning, again like so many people, I woke to news about five police officers killed by protesters. This morning I was speaking briefly to a friend at a coffee shop and he said sadly, “seems to be a war going on and we were issued our uniforms at birth.”
The social media world is swirling with people making clarified statements about the things that will solve this once and for all. Then they, or others, deride the different solutions that others suggest. Bullet points gets tossed from one side to another, and more innocents are killed.
A very helpful thought I have come across recently from Ingolf Dalferth is that “The purpose of science is to explain things. The purpose of philosophy is the clarify things. The purpose of theology is to orient things.” As one who is focused on the study of theos, or God, my job – and truly the job of anyone who follows God- is to try to help orient things. As a follower of Jesus I need to look to him to see what is to be done.
I look to those who can lead conversations such as these well to do them well. To acknowledge the complexity of positions they dispute, to look for what is valid and good in those with whom they disagree. My experience is that everything looks more simplified when it is viewed from a distance, but the closer you get the more complications come into view. Especially for those engaging those conversations in the political realm, I will pray for you. I don’t covet your task.
My role as a local pastor/theologian is to orient things. My desire is to help our church and those we are connected to, move towards others, even those we disagree with. To follow the path of Jesus in sitting down, eating, having coffee or a beer with those whose life experience is different than ours. With those whose perspectives are different than ours. Not to convince them that our bullet points are better than their bullet points, but to learn from them. Not to automatically release what we believe to be true, or to think nothing is; but rather to listen to their experience and learn from them where we can as well as sharing our own.
To be sure, this is playing the long game. But hatred seems to only relent in relationship – distrust is the same. Far too often we look at the world and there are only two groups, us and them. This must stop. These cycles of violence must stop. The church is intended to be a community where glimpses of God’s peace glimmer everywhere.
15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. 16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Cor 5.15-21
I realize that this posting is “late.” The horrific massacre at Pulse in Orlando is nearly a week ago. I have struggled to wonder what I can add to all that has been written already. Some of it has been wonderful and some decidedly not. But as one of the pastors of a church that has a huge connection to Va. Tech and hundreds of students that attend, I would like to say this to our church that is dispersed all over the country (and globe) this summer.
We, unfortunately, understand a small part of what the LGBTQ community is going through right now. Only a small part, but we need to own the small part that we get.
Because we can understand this part of it, we must realize that the LGBTQ community is going to stagger under the weight of this for a long time – this won’t be wrapped up by the end of June. I think of Job’s friends that heard Job was suffering greatly. They stopped what they were doing and went to him, wept with him and simply sat with him. They were a presence with their friend who was staggering under the weight of what had happened.
12When they lifted up their eyes at a distance and did not recognize him, they raised their voices and wept. And each of them tore his robe and they threw dust over their heads toward the sky. 13Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great. Job 2.12,13
They stopped what they were doing, broke into their normal lives and were simply with Job, stepped into his suffering. Powerful words for us.
Yet we must also realize that there are ways that we DO NOT understand what the LGBTQ community is going through. After the shootings, I (even though I was right beside campus when the shootings happened) was not ever in greater danger because I am a Hokie. The LGBTQ community very well could be. It is fair that the LGBTQ community is more frightened after this attack. As a result we need to get busy with a few things.
Job’s friends, after sitting with him for seven days, began to speak. They started reciting the cultural script; if someone bad happens to you, God must be punishing you for something you have done. Now this wasn’t an accurate understanding of God, but it was a common one in their day. So they started running the script and as they did that, started making the mistakes that they are so famous for. Something larger was going on, and they missed it.
Our take-away should not be, “I can never say anything for fear I will be wrong.” Rather our take-away from all this should be a great sense of humility when we step into someone else’s suffering and a heightened sense of awareness for our potential knee jerk reactions.
To the LGBTQ community, hear this. We are desperately sorry for what happened to you. You were hunted at Pulse and this just adds another example of violence to the long history of it you have had to experience. It was wrong and we will seek to walk with you through it any way that we can. I think of the words of Brother Lawrence, whose letters were compiled into The Practice of the Presence of God. “You need not cry very loud; God is nearer to us than we think.”
These next words from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome might seem a bit cliché, as they are thrown around a great deal after horrible things like this. But to me they are my hope. I believe that as Jesus is more fully known in our beautiful but broken world, we will see them more fully realized.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12.21
Being the pastor of a congregation that is almost exclusively under 30 in a university town, this
However, as I have been talking to people, a couple of common themes emerge. One is that the focus is more on what is being given up than the reason or what people hope to gain through the process.
Now some of this is understandable. The questions about “what are you giving up?” roll out more easily and can be discussed in different groups more easily than the more probing questions sometimes.
On the other side of the discussion I seem to be running across more “web chatter” about why giving up for Lent is unnecessary, and to take the wording of some, even a bit dangerous to having a close and intimate relationship with Jesus. The idea is that Jesus never asked us to give up coffee for him, he asked us to follow him with our whole lives. As such, giving up coffee can produce a sense of false piety.
Probably unsurprising to many who know me, I see value in both concerns.
To handle the second, well first…
There has always been the practice of intentionally going without in scripture. Releasing what we could have access to, either to allow the kingdom of God to function as it should (the practice of landowners not harvesting wheat from the edges of their fields, and leaving some between the rows, so the poor could get this grain comes to mind) or for the purpose of drawing us closer to God personally (the practice of fasting as a means of remaining humbled before God and reminding ourselves of our daily need of him). The tithe… there are many more.
So, following God’s direction to take away something we could have and value, is a good and long-standing practice. Sure, it can produce false-piety, anything we do for God can. But that has much less to do with the process and more to do with the fact that we are the ones engaging in the process.
Now for the first issue, of putting more focus on what we are giving up than on what we are hoping to experience from God…
Again, this is an easy trap to fall into, happens all the time. Our challenge is to remember that just removing caffeine from our diet, or desserts, or just shutting down Facebook, or not watching TV at night is intended to remind us of our need for God and to give us more time to spend with Him or the people he is directing us to. So the giving up is the start, but it is only the start.
And for many of us, there are things in our lives we battle with daily, and these things seem to large, or have been too large for us to see victory over. Starting with giving up something that, while difficult, is doable, can be a great start. If someone who has rarely or never exercised wakes up one day and decides to become run the Ironman, that process will likely need to start with a little jogging, a little swimming and a little biking. Small starts, can lead to amazing things.
In this election season, where both sides are constantly looking for blame to assign and blame to avoid (and yes, the other side is always worse at it,) I love to hear a politician say, “I was wrong.” And we don’t hear it enough.
Well I need to say it now. If you have been following
Where I thought I had landed was on the idea that our plumber did good work, but was IMHO overly expensive. I shared that with him and with the facebook world; or at least my tiny part of it. I never shared any of it at any point angrily or in a jaded way, but it did frustrate me quite a bit. Then, as Tracy shared her opinion, which was different from mine (not the first time for that) I have started to realize that I was probably wrong.
Nope, I was wrong.
10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Cor 12.10
Now this section has Paul talking about the legitimate difficulties he had faced, and nothing that I am going through (plumbing or otherwise) rises to that level of difficulty, so I don’t quote this verse for that reason. I quote it because I believe God has shown me that for this next season of my life, to be stronger I need to focus on being weaker.
One of the ways I do this is my just being honest about when I am wrong. I have done this for years, imperfectly to be sure, but it has been a central concern of mine. And I also have believed and have tried to live the truth “the way you wrong someone should correspond to the way you should make it right.” So, I shared what I have come to see was a wrong thought via Facebook, so I will correct it via Facebook as well.
I now don’t think the plumber overcharged me, I believe he handled the issue we presented to him fairly and very competently. My sense that he was overcharging me was based on an understanding of the problem that I now see was likely false. So I was wrong.
Please know, this isn’t self-punishment, and I don’t feel guilty about what I did. I was just wrong and needed to fix that.
Hopefully, the saga is now over.
Except for fixing the ceiling…. Stay tuned. Drywall work should bring out some things I’ll be needing to apologize for 🙂
Love Va. Tech, love Blacksburg, love Montgomery County. The whole bit.
But I have really struggled with the Victoria’s Secret Pink Party that was held last night on the Drillfield. Possibly for some reasons you think, and maybe for others that you don’t.
Remember, I went here. I get it. A huge concert/party/Va. Tech community event like this? I like some of the stuff from Gym Class Heroes, and the chance to hit up a free concert and likely have a blast? I really do get it.
I certainly don’t object to students being able to decide whether or not they can attend the show.
What concerns me is how this impacts an already typically unhealthy sexual ethic. Please stick with me a bit here and try to ignore how poorly the last sentence was constructed. The healthiest development of our sexuality I believe is stated in the scriptures. Not arguing for prudishness (although some will undoubtedly disagree) here, just more reflection and restraint than I think we typically see. Allowing God to show us how to express our sexuality in the manner that he engineered it.
One final word, friends. We ask you – urge is more like it – that you keep on doing what we told you to do to please God, not in a dogged religious plod, but in a living, spirited dance. You know the guidelines we laid out for you from the Master Jesus. God wants you to live a pure life. Keep yourselves from sexual promiscuity. Learn to appreciate and give dignity to your body,not abusing it… 1 Thess 4
Please keep in mind that Jesus spent most of his time removing the extra rules that had been added by his religious compatriots. He seemed to want to free the pursuit of God from many of the restrictions that were squeezing the life out of that very pursuit. But in the Sermon on the Mount, probably in my opinion the most clarified teaching that he gave and the one that most helps me to understand the heart of God towards us, he actually tightens up the understanding of what sexual purity meant. He said it was not just about what you did, but about what was in your heart in the first place.
Now if Jesus was the prude that I thought he was up through my last year a Tech, that wouldn’t surprise me a bit. But he wasn’t. He was accused by the religious elite of being a drunk. Of hanging out too much with prostitutes, the untouchables of his day.
So, I guess my concern is that his concern just isn’t getting much play in our culture today. I don’t say this because I want to be seen as right or in the majority. More and more I wonder if followers of Jesus do better when we are the minority. I say this because I talk to hundreds of people each year and many have been hurt greatly by the sexually free culture we experience. That in our freedom we actually lose access to a part of who we were created to be.
As I am reading a bit of Socrates recently I will use his preferred method… Likely poorly 🙂
That is why I have struggled so much with this one…
Not. Even. Close.
Congrats to the University on becoming one of the true flagships in the country for campus dining.
So I was excited when I saw that Adam Frank, an astrophysicist from the University of Rochester invoked it in a
At least at first. His take was that we need to try to not fall into the same “us versus them” pattern that can so often derail the discussion. That by thinking “orthogonally” we can put a right angle in the discussion and come up with something that is entirely new.
Then I ran across what I run across all to often in discussions with those who would consider themselves commited scientists and atheists. The issue that is seemingly not even noticed is the baseline belief that those with religious belief are more opposed to this discussion than those without religious belief. That the religious, with my experience being obviously as a follower of Jesus, have behaved more poorly in the discussion than our counterparts.
Yes, I liked how Frank mentioned Einstein’s concern about fanatical atheists who were as intolerant as their religious counterparts. And yes I liked how he talked about our need to approach a discussion that can often be conducted on one axis (only my side has value) more orthogonally. Not just shoot for a middle position, but take a right angle on the axis and create something different. Adam, I was with you.
Remember, this isn’t about what the conclusion is, Frank and I would clearly disagree on that, but rather how we can engage in this discussion seeking to be listeners and not just winners.
But, then it happened. And it was going so well.
Of course the point must always be made that in domains of politics and policy strident atheists are infinitely more tolerent and less damaging than the gang hanging out at other end of the spectrum.
It isn’t even that I am bothered by his opinion on the matter. It is the “Of course” that starts that opinion off. That “of course” approach is what is so frustrating for me.
Much more often than not, when I enter into a discussion with a scientifically oriented atheist, the presumption is that I am likely a knuckle-dragging holdover from an earlier evolutionary stage. My experience is that in the significant majority of conversations, rarely is time taken to investigate whether their hypotheses about me are true.
I recognize the look of disbelief mixed with frustration, disdain and occasionally even pity.
I am not saying that there aren’t many from among those that follow Jesus that haven’t been equally offensive. I remember a Christian I knew that had a bumper sticker that read “April 1st – National Atheists’ Day” and I remember those that cheered his “bravery” in proudly driving around with it on his bumper.
So I am not saying the faith community has handled itself well all the time. And I am not asking people to feel sorry for me as I know very well that many followers of Jesus around the world suffer much more than disparaging looks.
My issue is that it must at least be acknowledged that, for at least a portion of the atheist/scientific community; this thought is so automatic that it could even find its way into a posting urging its readers to not do that very thing.
Sometimes it would seem we have a very long way to go.
I have to say this may be the best one. To Mike (for flawlessly mixing a song that I bet you find an affront to music), Robbie (for the awesome videography and syncing), Adriana (for being willing to express such raw emotion on camera), Kristal (for the great choreography and taking an info card hit to the face), and of course Karin (for rocking the nasal tone and for likely pulling a smile muscle). – So well done! Funny, creative, and technically so well done.
To those who haven’t seen it yet. Enjoy. And Happy Labor Day!
“MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”