After a few years as an independent site, I am going to consolidate with the rest of our offerings on circleofhope.net.
As a follower, you will be automatically transferred when the deed is done.
See you there! circleofhope.net/rodwhite — Rod
After a few years as an independent site, I am going to consolidate with the rest of our offerings on circleofhope.net.
As a follower, you will be automatically transferred when the deed is done.
See you there! circleofhope.net/rodwhite — Rod
A month ago we had a “Doing Theology” time on JUSTICE. We had to think things over after being moved all year by the heartache and turmoil caused by police brutality and the protests about systemic injustice that is poured out on African Americans, especially. This is one of two posts that attempt to sum up what we heard when we gathered to listen to God about justice. Hopefully, they will contribute to our ongoing dialogue.
To begin with, there is no justice without Jesus. We are all wrong. God graces us with “right” and the ability to bring things to right. We exercise His grace by the power of the Holy Spirit and it leads to justice. We demand justice from the powers-that-be from our place of safety in Christ, we don’t beg the powers to give us what is right as if they create it.
Jesus’ mission is to restore humanity and the whole creation. He envisions well‐being for people who are spiritually poor and people who are socially poor. As he walks among us, righteousness and justice mark the events of his days and nights. Jesus lives right and makes life right with and for others. If Jesus had offered a justice code (and it is dangerous to think he might have done this) it might have been centered around this idea: to love is to be just; to be just is to love. When we claim to follow Jesus, we are disciplined by the call to love like Jesus.
Justice is a concept with many meanings. It is too multi‐dimensional to be reduced to a single dictionary definition. It is summed up in the person of Jesus. It is also well-explored in the Bible. Romans 12-13 is a good place to see all the different aspects of how justice is worked out in one place. Modern people divide things up when they think. The Bible writers tend to mash things together because they are doing something personal, not conceptual. They are relating to wholeness, not particularity.
What follows is an attempt to sort out these two chapters according to ideas of justice that often aren’t thought of together, or are considered in competition with each other. Paul mashes them all up in his teaching masterpiece and helps us get a feel for how God feels and how God would like us to act.
This is by no means the final word about how to divide up these chapters, but it gives an idea of how Paul understands the levels and depths of how justice is understood and applied.
1) There is legal/courtroom justice. In democratic societies and many other cultures there is an assumption that “you get what you deserve.” Virtue is rewarded, evil is punished and criminals are brought to justice. They get their “just desserts” and are penalized according to the law as guilty offenders. The justice system holds court, and penalties are meted out to fit the crime.
Romans 13:1-5 — Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
2) There is ethical/human‐rights justice: Ethical justice gives a different meaning to “you get what you deserve.” In the moral equation that links basic rights with being a human being, individuals are inherently worthy to receive benefits from their society. We should look for what is good and bring about justice.
Romans 12:3-4 —For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function 12:14-18 — Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 13:6-7 — This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
3) There is divine/God’s justice: God’s justice embraces measures of both legal and ethical justice. In some sense, people who disregard God’s laws of life and love get their “just desserts.” Selfishness eventually inflicts its own punishment. Unrestrained greed guarantees disdain and even revenge from those who are exploited. Deceit may lead to short‐term gain but guarantees long‐term pain.
God’s moral equation lifts life from the noble level of bestowing equal rights on all creation to the human experience of both loving and being loved. God’s vision for a just creation sees people in right relationships with each other. Love protects the vulnerable, and offers the right to fail and the freedom to begin again.
The ethic of love and the practice of “loving your neighbor as yourself” are at the root of God’s vision for a just creation. The tenacity of God’s love refuses to accept injustice. Because of God’s relentless hope, we don’t get what we deserve. Instead of being forever guilty we are granted forgiveness. We are invited to walk alongside Jesus who shows us how and empowers us how to live right and make life with others right.
Again, Jesus is justice and personally gives it. He is not subject to an abstract idea that humans have socially constructed. He says in John 8:15-16 — You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me.
Romans 12:19-20 — Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” 13:8-13 — Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.
4) There is spiritual transformation or restorative justice. When God’s people get it right, they bring a distinctive contribution to the justice table. Even though followers of Jesus do not have sole access to human virtue or an exclusive claim on being principled people, they have two advantages: Christians have revelation to help them discern God’s will and ways for themselves and others; and they have Jesus with them in Spirit and in history to demonstrate what human can be.
Followers of Jesus will never duplicate the full beauty and wisdom of Jesus. But their faith points them in the right direction. They bring the Spirit of God with them. The understanding they gain from the Bible and their relationship with God’s Spirit can enable them to translate their convictions into compassionate behavior that serves the eternal interests of others.
Circumstances will always influence the responses of God’s people. But personal concerns, self‐interest and material gain will not have the final word. Christians will champion the marginalized and be driven by the ethic of love. Right relationships will rule the day. Love will prevail. Justice will trump injustice. Reconciliation and restoration will be the goal. Gently, but prophetically, Christians will bring their confidence, born of being forgiven and renewed, to the table. Power‐brokers who have a vision for a just social order will welcome the participation of people of faith, or they will face their relentless conviction and hope.
Romans 12:1-2 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. 12:9-13 — Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 12:21 — Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. 13:14 — Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.
Justice is at play on many levels. People are able to grasp what justice means at many levels of personal and spiritual development. Some of us may devote ourselves to the most basic idea on the level first mentioned. But as a whole, we are determined to reveal God’s justice on the deeper, world-changing level listed last.
This Bible study helps us mentalize with God so we can think and feel more about what we can do to restore creation with the Creator. There will be more about that next time as I offer a few of the things our session collected for us to use.
My last seminar at the Mennonite World Conference was one my friend told me I needed to attend, since it was by Wes Furlong, pastor of an unusually large Mennonite Church in Florida. I was eager to see how the Anabaptists were trying to come to the megachurch picnic.
I was disappointed because Furlong did not show up. The replacement said he was still with his family after his vacation and felt it was better to stay with them. This was ironic, since part of his material included asking a good-hearted skeptic to tell you what your church is like after they attend a meeting for the first time. I was the good-hearted skeptic at his meeting this time. Not showing up made a big impression. Come to find out Furlong has gone to quarter time at the church and started hiring himself out as a consultant and as one of the architects of the new splinter-group Evana. When I googled him, the first thing that came up was Wes Frulong.com. He’s his own brand.
There is a lot I learned from my seminar experience, but let’s give the material his substitute offered some respect. He wanted to explore how Anabaptist assets can serve the cause of fulfilling the Great Commission. This is always a good topic of discussion. We do well to think about it because, I think, Circle of Hope and BIC assets are deep, but they are often poorly delivered in service to the cause. In the case of the BIC, I think the assets are well described, but the organization has been talking about itself for a decade or so instead of mobilizing for action. The BIC has hired a lot of Wes Furlong types to get ourselves going, but the denominational culture has become even less about our historic or actual assets, it seems to me.
The teacher talked about three things that are special threats to Anabaptist types if they want to fulfill the Great Commission. These are threats to most other churches, as well.
1) The original vision of a founding pastor/formation team or of a denomination tends to move toward institutionalization. The goal line might be clear and the way to get there might even be clear, but the requirements of the institution are too distracting to make enough good plays to get the ball over the line. To get anywhere, the homeostasis needs to be disrupted, but the system is designed to preserve itself.
2) Fear of authority. The baby boomers are in charge and they have taught their children to be even more suspicious of anyone in charge than they are. Unless you are an especially skillful or charismatic person, a leader in the church spends a lot of time figuring out who is in charge at a given moment and making all their many bosses happy. They never succeed in making everyone happy so they are on a hamster wheel of failure until they burn out. Nothing can be mobilized.
3) The lack of clarity between modality and sodality. This is about being a people and being a mission. Obviously we should be both: a missional community. But often the modality (the church as a means to the end) is more important than the sodality (that singular cause for which the church exists). Churches get on the bus and then decide where to go rather than being invited onto a bus that is already scheduled for a destination. We end up with a covenant to confab rather than convert.
In the face of these threats to meeting the Lord’s goal, what must be done?
1) Trust the Holy Spirit to start a movement. You can’t do anything right enough to make the plant grow, but you can prepare the soil, sow, and till.
2) Understand that a lot of it depends on the hearts of the leaders. If they don’t want to go where Jesus is going and they can’t bear the rejection they will bear when they go with him, there is not going to be enough passion to sustain mission (like enough of THE Passion).
3) Our perception of ourselves in Christ will probably need to change. The teacher gave a metaphor of the Mennonites (and I think the BIC have this disease a bit) as being the quiet people of the land because they have the tongue-screw still applied from their days of being quieted by persecution. It is hard to get the assets on the road if you can’t talk about them. People are worried about how the gospel is communicated but that can’t be the main concern; we should know who we are and let the communication be contextual and variable.
4) The organization will need to change to facilitate the goal, not vice versa. The Cape Christian church went to local officials and other neighbors and asked what big need in their area was going unmet. They found out that it had to do with families, especially foster children. They took on the task. They built a new building that included a splash park. Soon families were coming to their church after going to the splash park. What’s more, they got committed to fostering and ended up responsible for 50-60% of the foster family placements in their city of 175,000 people. Their goal changed everything.
What does it take to help people know Jesus and become fully-functioning members of the body of Christ — not abstractly, but in our location? Serious answers to that question could arrive at serious goals that are worth our lives – the lives Jesus gave us to live, not to waste while we aspire to live in some more-perfect future – like the future when some renowned presenter shows up to encourage you to show up.
I appreciated hearing from the inventive pastor of a downtown Amsterdam church today named Henk Leegte. He was helping us Mennonite World Conference attenders figure out how to be the church in a postmodern and postChristian context, like the Netherlands (and probably like the U.S. if we don’t pray up the alternative).
He named some reasons the Dutch have overwhelmingly deserted the church in all its forms.
What does this church do to connect?
1) they keep their doors open (literally). They don’t just say they are open, they actually provide a place that is open. They also have a café where people can experience artistic expression. They try to stay close to the culture that way. This is also a safe place in which people can belong before they believe.
2) They tell people Bible stories. Not knowing them (like they don’t) can be crippling. For instance, people like going to the Van Gogh Museum because they don’t need to know any content. If you go to the Rembrandt Museum, you need to know the Bible. They help remedy this deficit.
3) They are prepared to meet people when God comes up in their lives. This happens around births, death and marriage. There are questions at the crossroads. People pray then: thank you and help.
4) Maybe their most innovative idea is their challenge to people of influence or power to give their sermon one week. This usually fills the church. Whether the person is a Jesus follower or not, the pastor challenges them to put their opinionated self in the pulpit. He gets to know them a bit and suggests a Bible passage that might suit them. He gives them the meaning of the passage. Then he let’s them lead that part of the meeting, including a prayer (even if they never pray). It is always interesting and often moving. They make sure they have the special meeting in November so people can still remember where the church is at Christmas.
All over the Eurocentric countries faith in Christ is diminishing. It takes creativity and passion to learn new ways to communicate the truth and love of Jesus. Where people don’t care anymore, we are introducing the gospel like they never heard of it. In some ways this is a great advantage.
What do you do in your context? What needs to be done?
As I acclimated to the sprawling Pennsylvania Farm Show complex in Harrisburg I ran into a parade of good memories of worldwide travel with the Mennonite Central Committee. I met Ron and Judy Zook with whom we traveled to Palestine. I saw Bonnie Klassen from Colombia who has impressed anyone who has met her since I did. A new Beachy Amish friend talked about visiting San Pedro Sula, in Honduras, like I had on my first learning tour with Ron Byler (and later I saw Steve Penner!). MCC has a big presence at the MWC /Mennonite World Conference, with which the Brethren in Christ are affiliated. I have been all over the world with our relief and advocacy mission, now I am experiencing the whole world coming to Harrisburg.
The first meeting started off with a dramatic parade. Native Americans representing those displaced by Mennonite immigrants in the 1700s came in to drums, singing and flutes. They reminded us of a recent ceremony of mutual understanding and forgiveness that took place. The ground was made clean for the meeting.
Then there “a parade of nations” reminiscent of the Olympics to begin the week. Brethren in Christ churches from Zambia and Zimbabwe were represented, banners and all.
There were a smattering of BIC people in the mix of the giant crowd (I think they expect 10,000 people). I counted five present and former bishops. More friends will probably show up as the week goes by. We ran in to dear people and had some stimulating conversation about the Brethren in Christ, who might have trouble generating a worldwide movement, since we do not seem to have a clear identity of who we are anymore. But we also talked about justice, grandchildren, marriage and dissertations. It is always great to feel relieved by a loving face in a daunting crowd.
I thank God for the excitement of singing together with people who have a common faith — many of whom have the passion that would get them on a plane to demonstrate their faith in a foreign country. The people in front of us were from Basel, Switzerland; we were in line with kids from Winnipeg, Danisa Ndlovu of Zimbabwe gave a speech. God is praised.
Here is a song we sang that will encourage you. Another gift of the conference is a whole book of music from sisters and brothers around the world!
I have been watching MTV for 34 years. (My devotion will not help the network’s pursuit of the 12-34-year-olds it targets). I watch it:
How many of the youth MTV is still feeding is under dispute. The network has been recently punished in the cable ratings — down 29 percent in 2015. But their Facebook fan base is 48 million compared to Fox News’ 10 million and Fox has a much bigger cable rating number. It is hard to measure what people are doing on their phones and computers. But it looks like they consume a lot of MTV.
MTV is not kind to Christians, most of the time, although one or two did come off relatively well on Real World, back in the day. In Awkward, the Christian girl has a closeted gay dad, a judgmental mom and is consistently stupid and fearful. But then the outlook of teens on Awkward is not kind to most people and sees most adults as especially useless. As far as these MTV teens are concerned, what is important is not being awkward, succeeding at something, and fitting in – and having sex. For instance, Jenna Hamilton, the lead character, has an unusual opportunity to have her first sexual experience with her impossible crush, Matty, and then finds out he wants to keep their relationship a secret because she is so uncool. She thinks: “With my v-card safely tucked away in his back pocket….he hit me with ‘but nobody can know that I like you.’ So…I was still Jenna Hamilton.”
So how does one get into a dialogue about the Bible with Jenna Hamilton? Just asking that sounds sort of uncool, right? Is she and all her friends fully plugged in and not listening outside their cocoon? Are they hypervigilant against anyone telling them that anything but what they feel might be relevant? Are all adults useless? I have a lot of questions that, well, make me feel awkward. Especially when I want to talk about the Bible, does that make me even more useless, like that Christian girl on Awkward? I probably am a Barney (a dork, a nerd boy, or a goober; guys with whom you don’t want to be seen with in public — there is a wiki).
I have to ask the question, however, since it might be true that MTV and all her media sisters have become more of a Bible than the Bible for many 12-34 year olds! MTV, in particular, is certainly a postmodern propaganda machine. You could say it is just channeling the zeitgeist and selling it back to kids. But it is also creating it and codifying it without an actual dialogue with what is being replaced (and what is being mocked to death, like opposing views were treated in high school).
I can see why Jenna may have stopped reading the Bible. There are a lot of good reasons. For instance:
Did you stop reading the Bible for some of the same reasons?
It is kind of easy to never be too serious about much more than who will have sex with you, or not. Like this preview for an episode of Awkward: “Having survived the title of ‘that girl’ by the skin of her teeth last season, Jenna once again risks the label now that a former schoolyard indiscretion may have been caught on tape. ‘The Sanctuary’ [sic] behind the bleachers at Palos Hills High seems like it’s anything but in the upcoming episode of “Awkward,” and Jenna is determined to get to the bottom of things before Jake finds out about her fling-plus with Matty.” Yes, I saw that episode. I admit I was entertained. Even more, I was enlightened. Somebody channeled what was going on in the world and made a little chapter of the ongoing video bible they are writing. Who knows how many people interpreted it as inspired?
When Jesus passes you the cup at the Love Feast it is an act of tenderness. Maybe you can’t look into his eyes and see it. But when you drink you might be able to feel it. When you are surrounded by others who love him and love you, that tenderness might be more evident. We can only hope.
It always happens. Someone at the feast will come up against this tenderness and it will throw them for a loop. Some might be frightened by it and might even refuse to drink. You can feel their resistance. Others will be melted for the first time and understand the liquid love being offered — a few flee to the outskirts of the group, they are so overcome. That’s because the heart of the covenant is tenderness and it unravels the world.
When Paul wrote to his church plant in Philippi from prison, his tenderness towards them spilled over again and again. I think he imagined them gathered around the communion table where Christ’s selfless love was on display, ready to consume, when he wrote:
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:1-4
How tragic it is that so many Christians skip most of his exhortation and immediately stumble over “being like minded” and then “having the same” and then “one mind.” In postmodern America being like minded is assumed to be impossible, if not illegal. Difference is prized and protected. Sameness is about rights, not communion. “One mind” sounds like an ideological demand reminiscent of the Nazis, or something — it might seem as if Jesus were passing the cup and each person is commanded to swallow an elephant-sized ideology to follow him! I think many of my friends feel just that way when the cup comes to them. Some won’t even take a sip, much less make a covenant at a “love feast” because they can’t swallow what they perceive to be a massive load of mind-boggling stuff that comes with it.
Why did I miss diving into the Divergent series until now? It is totally my kind of thing: anxious twentysomethings/teens forced by the government and their colluding parents to choose an identity that doesn’t fit them. Watching Kate Winslet (symbolizing the authorities) have her hand nailed to a computer screen by a well-thrown knife — what could be more interesting?
[They took down Kate getting knifed. Too bad.]
There is just so much to talk about here! So much of what the movie’s (and books’) characters face is exactly what people are thinking and feeling in the church all the time.
For instance, in Divergent-world, people are assumed to be pre-programmed. So far, it looks like Tris just isn’t. And it looks like Four/Tobias doesn’t want to be. Isn’t that just what we are all talking about — am I just who I am, or can I be someone more? “Can I choose? Do I have to choose? What if I choose wrong? Who decides the choices? Can they make me choose?”
In that kind of atmosphere, people have a lot of questions about the church, too — which is all about choosing, after all, and all about taking on a new identity. For instance: “Are the pastors a bunch of Kate Winslets with secret plots to use us for their own purposes?” That’s a good question. But, more likely, the question is about choices. “Should someone else choose what I choose (like Jesus)? Are they just programmed differently? Can I say what the choices are? I like choosing more than I like what I choose — what about that?” There is a lot to think about.
A couple of weeks ago, we revved up the survey monkey and asked people to choose seven words they thought other people would use to describe Circle of Hope. One group of words (in the order of incidence) were “different, weird, strange, confusing, mysterious.” Many of us were delighted at this result, since we think anyone who doesn’t describe Jesus with those words isn’t looking at Him carefully. So if people think of us that way, great! Other interpreters were dismayed. Being all those things doesn’t look very user-friendly. People avoid people who seem strange, don’t they?