Archive for October 5th, 2009

Duct Tape - Use SomeThe accusation that somebody is telling a lie has been thrown around a lot lately.  You have likely seen it on TV between cable news channels, between politicians, between cable news and politicians (including the white house staff), on this website (by authors and commenters alike). Some of you have probably even seen it in church.

I started thinking about the validity of accusation of lies when my first child at the age of 4 began to realize that sometimes we would say one thing (often involving her getting something she wanted) and that thing not come to pass.  I can’t remember the events surrounding the first accusation, but I do remember her getting upset with her parents and pouting and telling us that we lied to her.  I made her come back into the room and calmly explained to her that we did not lie because besides the fact that getting upset and pouting about not getting your way is immature and that even at such a young age we try to teach her how to handle situations maturely, she was just plain wrong.  I believe that in that particular instance, the situation had changed preventing us from following through with our previous claim.

I think that most of the accusations flying around (here and “out there”) are wrong as well.  There’s a difference between telling a lie and being wrong/ignorant.  A lie has the intent to deceive.  Deceit is the thing which makes something that is false or untrue a lie.    Technically, Merriam Webster’s Dictionary does say that a lie can be “b. an untrue or inaccurate statement that may or may not be believed true by the speaker.”  But that is referring to the noun (the untruth itself) and not the accusation that a person is a liar or telling a lie.  In fact, the dictionary definition for the verb “lie” always contains the element of deceit.  But besides that, when personal accusations go flying, the people making the accusations rarely mean that the accused gave “an untrue or inaccurate statement… believed true by the speaker.”  If they thought that, they’d call them wrong, ignorant, stupid, etc.

For years people believed that the Sun revolved around the earth.  We don’t think of them as liars, just ignorant.  When you sign your tax return, you aren’t saying that there aren’t any errors, just that there aren’t any that you know of (you aren’t intentionally or consciously giving them false information).  We also don’t call out scientists as liars when they come out with a statement that something we’ve been teaching in 5th grade text books for 40 years is actually not true.*

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another. (NLT Ga 5:19-26, Emphasis mine.)

*I considered siting references for all of my examples, but I realized that I would be doing it because I dislike ignorance, laziness, and false information almost as much as I dislike lying.  The point of this post is not to point out individual errors but to expose our immature penchant for accusations.

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Duct Tape - Use Some

Ah, the silly season has arrived, yet again.

Over the past several years of blogging, I’ve noticed a number of trends in topics, discussions and general attitudes which seem to cycle with the calendar. For example, it seems that July is the month for a large uptick in seeing commenters, cited articles and site authors (including myself) to lose patience and get ultra-snippy and personally petty about one another.

Christmas season settles down (from a personal-tone standpoint), but conflicts about personal preference (of all orders – music/worship style, dress, drinking, etc.) come to the forefront.

January/February seems to foster a bit more focused theological debate (often with systematic theologies in the crosshairs), etc.

It’s not that these things don’t happen other times during the year, it is just that they tend to “spike” at certain parts more than others.

Early fall, though, seems to be a season where a lack of basic reading comprehension and any sense of charity toward ones theological “enemies” seems to ratchet up. And this one, like last year, (or previous years) is gearing up to be no exception to the rule.

For example, we have a frequent commenter in one thread who is so blinded in his hatred for another brother in Christ that he reads/hears his brother say and explain one thing (”early Christianity was a subversive movement in the Roman Empire, which hijacked its symbology to declare Jesus as Lord of all, not Caesar”) and accuses him of saying the opposite (”early Christianity was just a cheap knock-off of Rome”).   It is like either A) basic literary comprehension or B) any guise of honesty has taken a holiday…

And then, we have this example, submitted to us by M.G., where a similar “perfect storm” of hatred, ill-will and an utter lack of charity or comprehension (or, possibly, tinfoil-hattery) has led tinpot ODM’s to accuse Rick Warren of trying to merge the church and state – completely misunderstanding (or misappropriating) “reconciliation” to mean something it does not…

And then, there’s the frequent purveyor of misapplication and miscomprehension, Mike Ratliff, who apparently has no clue about what orthopraxis is, or, apparently, that ’systematic theology’ and ’sound doctrine’ aren’t synonymous.  (Though, once again, I think ODM criticism has led me to want to purchase a book subjected to their criticism).

And on… And on…

As I read this screed over the weekend, I was struck A) by how little I missed reading C?N – I’d gone a couple of months without “researching” it; and B) How right Rob Bell was in his August 16th message “The Importance of Beginning in the Beginning” , in which he laid out (in a 65-minute message that intentionally ran long) his view of how Christians fit into Creation, and how important it is that we root our understanding of Christianity in Genesis 1, and not Genesis 3.

But I’m sure there will be some who purposely “misunderstand” him, and will argue (somehow) that he is stating the opposite of what he’s saying.

But let’s not blame them for their stupidity.  It IS that time of year, you know…

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Or, Thought for the Day #35.

Either way, I came across this quote in Mark Noll’s new book The New Shape of World Christianity. We are rather myopic, I think, when it comes to Christianity. I confess this as my own sin and I have learned it as sin, in large part, due to my class on Diversity in Education at CSU. What I mean is something like this. I understand race relations, for example, from my point of view and, to be sure, I have defended race relations from my point of view. I didn’t grow up  in the deep south. I didn’t grow up in the turbulent 60-70’s when race relations were evolving into something beautiful. Race relations in this country have been forged red in tooth and claw so I chose the word evolving on purpose. But my viewpoint on race has been large myopic; cloudy at best, utter darkness at worst.

And so it is too with Christianity and how I view it. I may not like it, but since going to college in 1991 I have been involved in any number of congregations: University Christian Church in East Lansing (near MSU); Brandywine Christian Church in Appalachia (deep Appalachia!); Chester First Christian Church (on the Ohio River); North Madison Church of Christ (near Cleveland); and Kalamazoo Christian Church (near, at the time, Upjohn & WMU), East Palestine Church of Christ (my home church, large and white). There have been others, too, along the way, but no matter where I have gone, or where I have preached, or the level of conservatism or liberalism embedded in the local community, Christ has always been at the center of the church. The cultural situation that surrounded and influenced the church has varied, but there always was, at the center, Christ.

I believe, by and large, my transportation to so many different congregations, in so many different parts of the world, in so many different cultural settings was a part of God’s plan to strip me of my myopia and ignorance concerning his plans, for his church, in this world. His plans are majestic, grand, involve all peoples, all cultures, all ideas, all nations, all tribes, all tongues–the grand mosaic that makes humanity beautiful and majestic. When I went to Brandywine Christian Church in West Virginia, I had already been largely influenced by the preacher of a university church (he was largely intellectual), an old school revival style preacher (he was largely emotional and loud), and four years of college chapel & lecture series preachers (they were largely agenda driven). I was in a rude awakening on my first day when I went around to greet people in my suit and was told, by the Methodist preacher, to ‘lose the suit.’ I would have been better off wearing overalls or waders or an orange vest emblazoned with a hunting license on the back.

What worked in those previous cultural situations would in no way, shape, form or other work in Brandywine, West Virginia.

So all the churches have been different whether it was a small country church in East Arbela, Michigan or a larger Suburban church outside of Detroit. With Christ at the center the church formed and was shaped–but never were cultural considerations or influences absolutely removed, and I am not so sure that Jesus is interested in doing so anyhow. There is simply no avoiding the influence of culture in the church.

There’s more to this story of my journey in faith, but I do believe that, again, the reason for my sojourn is so that the walls of my christian prejudice would be utterly destroyed and crumbled into nothing. The Law of Conservation of Energy does  not apply when it comes to the demolition of our sin and God is relentless in his work to purge us of what we think is important–it’s no easy task and He does not fail to meet with stiff resistance; still he wins. I tremble; I crumble.

My point is that Christianity is not defined by American culture everywhere even if it is defined by it here in America. Christianity, with Christ at the center, is its own wherever it is. And that is part of Noll’s point:

In a word, today’s Christian situation is marked by multiplicity because of how deeply the Christian message, fully indigenized in local languages, has become part of local cultures. The new shape of world Christianity offers a mosaic of many, many varieties of local believe and practice. Immigration, the modern media, global trade and the ease of contemporary travel have stirred this mixture. In many places it is possible to find traces–or more–of American influence. But the multiplicity goes far beyond what any one influence can explain, except the adaptability of the Christian faith itself. (27)

And in a strange, rather ironic twist, it appears from Scripture that the culture we have inherited and inhabited will not finally be abolished or abandoned, but will remain as a part of what makes us as unique as snowflakes:

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.” 11All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12saying:
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.

I think there is more to the story, but for now, maybe what we are learning (at least I am) is that with Christ at the center, culture isn’t all that bad of a thing. And by that I mean, all of them–not just the American one. Maybe culture is as beautiful and majestic as the people who create it. We do not have to hope and pray that everyone become white, conservative, American evangelicals in order for them to be a large part of that throng who gathers around the Lamb.*

What do you think?

*You know, I hope, that I am referring to those parts of culture that are beautiful and majestic: Language, art, traditions, habits, etc. I am not, most certainly not, referring to those things that are aberrations and perversions of the beautiful.

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