Category Archives: church

Consumerism: I learned it by watching you

If you were a child of the 80s, or had a child in the 80s, you’ll remember the public service announcements they showed on daytime television, especially Saturday morning. I occasionally use the phrase “that’s one to grow on” when a show is particularly heavy handed in presenting a lesson.

These covered a lot of topics, with many of them about the dangers of drugs. Drugs were a big deal in the 80s, and the best way to keep kids away from drugs was to make short films that told kids in no uncertain terms that drugs were bad and that bad people do them. You don’t want a fried-egg brain, do you?

I’ve forgotten most of them, but a few have become part of pop folklore. For instance, the one about the dad who confronts his son after finding drugs in his room.

This came to mind as I was thinking about habitus the other day.  What is habitus? It’s habits. But why not say habits? Because latin makes it sound more profound, of course.  More than that, it’s not just habits as we usually think of them, things we happen to do.  Like putting my keys on the desk by the door when I get home, or forgetting to close the cabinet doors when I get a plate.

More, it’s really formational habits that shape us in a particular way. Like practicing a sport builds muscle memory so that when we play we respond without going through an intellectual process. The brain is slow, after all, and by the time it sorts through the various options and issues, everyone is on the other side of the field.

It’s the same way with morality and spirituality. In the moment, we respond. And our response reflects who we have been up to that point, what feeds into our values and priorities. Our habitus is reflected in our habits, priorities, use of time.

Why was I thinking about habitus the other day? I was reading a great book by Alan Kreider called The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, one of the best books I’ve read all year. In it, he talks about the habitus of the early Christians, how their intentional practices and rhetoric oriented them to respond with patience in the midst of a lot of chaos. That patience defined every aspect of personal and church life, allowing Christians to grow and spread in unimaginable ways.

That changed when Constantine came into power, and Kreider argues impatience became cemented into Christian habitus through the writings of Augustine. Things needed doing, heretics needed resisting, the state needed converting, and there’s no time to wait.

Impatience defines so much of Christian ministry even to our era, where everything is measured in the short term and immediate success of limited tenure ministers, who will move onward and upward as they are able. Buildings get bigger, bulletins get flashier, budgets get bloatier, numbers of all sorts of things and people (and people are often basically things) are counted and massaged.

The challenge for churches becomes a budgetary bloom, where people are called to give and give and give. This then is the primary expression of spiritual service. When money becomes center, and money is used to expand property or improve facilities or hire staff–none of which are bad things–it becomes an expression of a core spiritual discipline.

Then people who want to contribute to the life of the church develop ideals about how this can happen and how to live out their own lifestyle of displayed plenty.

Money brings nice things.  Those who have money get treated better and have more influence.

The odd thing is, as we build in this consumer mentality within church life, it coincides with a frustration about consumerism.

An impatient and consuming church contributes to an impatient and consuming society.

Which is me saying, it’s no use railing against consumerism in society until church growth models themselves stop being consumeristic themselves, consuming people, resources, time spent on frivolous activities.

Where did they learn it from?  Not from Jesus.  From impatience and societal displays of success that were intended to provoke awe and envy and competition.  And the more competition there is, the more people will be willing to shop around for the best product and value. They look for that which is celebrated by those who lead the churches.

Not all churches are like this, but those who aren’t, those pastors who aren’t, feel a constant tug to just give in, because that way is the way to honor and success in the church world.

Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.

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Of course I am still an Evangelical

Over the last few months, there’s been a flurry of folks stating they are no longer Evangelicals, leaving behind that label for supposedly better appellative pastures.

Almost all that I’ve heard doing this are responding to the recent election in which a very high percentage of Evangelicals aligned with Trump.

That sentence is fraught with commentary potential, so much so that the very point of my post has already been sidetracked three and a half times. Erased sentences, one passionate rant now entirely subdued, and a google search history notwithstanding, I’m going to press on to my purpose.

Hi, I’m Patrick and I’m an Evangelical.

No, I’m not going to add any “yes, buts” or “howevers” and there will be nary a “post-” prefix to be found.  I’m owning the label, come what may.

Why so bold?  That’s who I am. I’m an Evangelical, and there’s just no getting around the fact without having to deny some significant aspects of my reality that I have no inclination to deny.

And if the label fits…

Before I get to why it fits so perfectly, I will add that I refuse to let others define the label for me, especially those whose motives are not in keeping with either the definition or the history of Evangelicals.

There are those who claim the label Evangelical that are nothing of the sort, and there are those who want to recast the label so as to undermine its history and contributions. I refuse to be cowed by either species and so enter the lists in defense of the title and myself.

I’m an Evangelical.

Three reasons:

  1. I’m an Evangelical because of Confession.
  2. I’m an Evangelical because of Tradition.
  3. I’m an Evangelical because of Obligation.

All of these are important and together they lead me to an inescapable conclusion.

(more…)

Posted in church, everyday theology, personal, politics, religion, theology | 3 Comments

Loving Neighbors in an Era of Internment

On this day in 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed  an order which authorized the internment of Americans who had Japanese ancestry.  Families were rounded up, taken away from their homes, put in camps for the duration of the war with Japan.

Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor the previous December.  Outrage was high and so was fear.  Submarines had been spotted off the coast of California. People were afraid and suspicious.  Sure, they thought, many have been here for generations, but some were newer immigrants. How can we know who to trust?

Panic set in and those in charge responded to the panic by making a sweeping gesture.

Panic does that, after all.  We lose the ability to rationally respond to particulars. We make sweeping gestures.  We make excuses for our sweeping gestures based on the possibility of something bad happening.  Other people are made to bear the weight for our sense of peace.

In the midst of hearing about injustice and trauma in so many directions it is easy to become overwhelmed.  We aren’t made to absorb a world’s worth of news, after all, and it is human nature to break complexities down into general categories.

It’s not personal, we say.  Only of course it is.  It’s always personal. Because our responses affect real people.

So the US put people into camps, pulling them away from their homes and livelihoods, for the sake of an assumption of security.

A lot more can and should be said about this, which is why it’s worth spending time listening to the experiences of those who were forced to live in these camps.

I’m thankful for the voices we can listen to now about what happened, that they weren’t silenced.  I wonder who fought for their voice in 1942.

I wonder because I think about the responsibility of the church in such times of crises, to help people avoid navigating by panic and help orient them in light of their responsibilities to loving God and loving neighbor.

The problem is that in a time when everyone had problems, it’s hard to think about helping others with problems, to fight for their benefit, to give them voice, to bear the weight for them.  I think that’s the way of Christ. We don’t make other bear the weight for our peace but instead are willing to bear the weight so they can experience peace.

I don’t know what most of America did in response, or what the general response was when everyone heard news of this Presidential order.  It seemed most either supported this or ignored it.  Not everyone did, though.

I do know the response of a couple men, and, on this day, I want to make mention of their part.

Merle McBride
Merle McBride

My dad’s grandfather came to California when he was a young man, riding the rails from Texas, starting a new life out on the West coast, working as a laborer and then a farmer in southern California. My mom’s dad came to southern California when he was young, a family of farmers from Oklahoma (but not Okies, as the later depression era immigrants from that state were called) . He became a farmer himself.

They were friendly with their neighbors, most of whom were also farmers.  As was common, many were of Japanese descent, families who had come east rather than west, sometimes generations earlier, finding a shared celebration of the bounty of California soil.

These families were arrested and put in camps.  Some people took advantage of the situation, foreclosing on loans, buying out property for significantly less than what it was worth.  Some people see other people’s problems as an opportunity for gain. Some people see other people’s problems as their own problems, and work to alleviate some of the pain.

My great-grandfather Willis Oden and my grandpa Merle McBride were of this latter sort, I’m proud to say.  They took on the burden of their neighbors farms, working them as if they were their own.  They didn’t take them over, they took care of their neighbors property. They kept the farms going, paying debts and maintaining profit.

Their neighbors lost years and lost freedom in interment camps, but they did not lose their farms or livelihood.  When they came back home, everything was as they had left it, and they were able to settle back into to their lives on their land.

Willis T. Oden and Etta Oden

I’m not proud of that Presidential order but I’m proud of my great-grandpa and grandpa, how they responded. I come from families that were willing to shoulder the burden of their neighbors in a time of crisis, even when they had family members who were fighting, and sometimes dying, in the fight against Japan.

They weren’t alone, and I imagine there are many stories like this. Americans sharing each other’s burdens no matter what their national origin.

It’s far too easy to generalize the idea of loving one’s neighbors, but sometimes the best way to show love to neighbor is really to help one’s actual neighbors.

I think that’s what Jesus was getting at. Imagine if everyone did that, each reaching out within their own circle to bear the real burdens of others. That would resonate deeply and broadly indeed, maybe even transform our neighborhoods and our society in ways that reflect the Kingdom of God.

We have a choice each day. Do we depersonalize and take advantage of our supposed enemies, who are categorized based on general categories? Or do we put in the work to help those around us, recognizing each other as persons and responding in helpful love?

On a day in which there’s sadness and shame, it’s worth noting that there can be a better way.  It gives me hope and it gives me an example of the kind of person I want to be.

Posted in church, family, good works, history | 1 Comment

Washing feet?

Reading Vanier’s book on John. He talks about the profound gesture of washing each other’s feet as part of the community. I get the idea of humility, but it’s lost its practical significance. Jesus washed feet as a sign of humility and because feet were actually dirty from walking in the streets.

We should wash each other’s cars instead. Or weed. Or clean each other’s homes. Something that actually needs doing.

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Same (in which I talk about Subarus and Star Wars)

Same is same. Not exactly. In common conversation we know how same can mean different things. Unfortunately we’re a lot more adept at talking to each other about daily life than talking to each other about God, and tend to make all sorts of inexact absolutes when it comes to talk about God.

Why? Because we’re very protective about God and wouldn’t want wrong things said about him. Which is a funny thing for someone who has specialized in talk about God. Because people say all sorts of wrong things about God in all sorts of places.

Talk about God is a bit like traffic laws, if a person wants to find something wrong, they’ll find something to charge you with.

That’s my continuing frustration with the situation at Wheaton. I can understand both what Dr. Hawkins meant and why people are outraged by what they think she meant. What I don’t understand is how Wheaton College–a premier academic institution–was unable to do the same.

The same, there’s that word again. Some examples came to mind the other day of how same is same but not the same as every same. We mean something different by “same”. Yet we find a way not to get outraged by each other or insist a person means one thing when they intended another.

I often drive the same car as Amy. It’s a Subaru Outback. Before we got our Outback, we drove a Honda Civic. She drove the civic, I drove the civic, it was the same Civic. Now I drive that Civic still when I commute to work. Same Civic. She rarely drives that car now, but when we look at pictures of road trips we talk about driving the Civic. The same Civic I drive now. Same is same. We had some friends at Fuller who had the same car, a Honda Civic. Not our car, of course, I mean it was also a Civic.

We were in a parking lot a while back and Amy pointed out a Subaru that was a 2007 champagne colored outback. Same car that we own. So, I got out and took it home. No, I’m just kidding. It was the same car, but not our car.

If I said to someone that I have the same car, they wouldn’t assume that I meant we share the same exact car in the way my wife and I have the same car. We know what we mean when we use the same word to describe different kinds of sameness.

Same, but different. “Same” can have a range of meanings.

Back in the 80s, my family had a tan colored Outback that we drove all the time. Same car as I own now, but a different year. Well, not the same car of course; same make and same model, but that car finally died in the 90s and my dad got rid of it. It was an Outback, we own an Outback now.

I got the same car for my family! Only it’s not the same car, but you know what I mean. Because we know that same can mean different things depending on the context. When I told my dad we got the same car, an Outback, he didn’t assume I meant that I hunted down the same exact Outback my family owned in the 1980s.

Did Dr. Hawkins mean there are no differences between Islam and Christianity? No. Did she conflate the theology of the two? No. Same can mean same when we’re talking about a similar set of properties and history, even as there may be quite a bit of difference between two actual examples. Absolutely. We do it all the time.

My 2007 Outback is very different than the 1980s Outback of my parents, and I imagine a new Outback is yet still different than theirs or mine. But it’s the same car even if I can’t walk onto a car lot and drive away a brand new one. “But I have this same car!” I could tell the salesman. No, no you don’t, he would reply.

I did tell the salesman when I bought our 2007 that we had the same car when I was younger. He knew I didn’t mean the exact car on his lot that we were trying to buy. That would be silly if I had to clarify that I meant the same model not the same car.

We’re a lot more generous to each other when we talk about cars. What about a more serious topic? Star Wars.

Same Millennium Falcon is in both the original trilogy and the new Star Wars. Same is exactly the same. I liked they didn’t try to modernize the electronics. It looks exactly the same. Same is same.

Luke Skywalker is the main character in the original trilogy. In the early 90s, Timothy Zahn wrote a series of Star Wars novels that took place after the time of Return of the Jedi, called the Thrawn triology. Luke Skywalker is a character. Same character as in the original trilogy.

The new movies aren’t based on the Zahn novels nor any previously published story set in the Star Wars universe. Luke Skywalker is in the new movie, the same Luke Skywalker who is in the original trilogies. The same character who is in the Zahn books.

But that’s impossible because the new movie is very different than the books. Luke Skywalker is in both, but isn’t the same, because it’s a different story, with different events and revelations.

The new movies supersede any books. The movies are called canon. Here’s a bit from Wikipedia:

The Star Wars canon is what is officially regarded as “canonical”, or officially part of a story, in the Star Wars media franchise. The official Star Wars canon consists of the six released Star Wars theatrical feature films, the Star Wars animated film and television series The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels, and every other material released after April 25, 2014, unless otherwise stated.

So, the Zahn books have the same Luke Skywalker as in the original trilogy but are not considered canon. The official telling of Star Wars uses the movie. But, if someone were to read the Zahn books now they wouldn’t be wrong in saying that it’s the same Luke Skywalker.

Same but not exactly the same. Same, but still having varying qualities of accuracy. Same, but one is considered true and one is considered extra-canonical. Both share the qualities of being a telling of Star Wars. One is right, the other is now not right. One is canon, one is not. But it’s the same characters in both. Same but different. Same even as one is better and the official telling of the character. I appreciate the way Zahn told the story but the Star Wars universe now doesn’t have Thrawn or Mara Jade or those force draining Ysalamiri. Luke Skywalker is a character but does different things and acts in different ways and responds to different situations than in the new movie. This is only going to get more different as more movies are released.

Different Luke Skywalker? Yes, but no. Luke is the same, but there is a different revelation about what Luke Skywalker said and did. We can speak about sameness while acknowledging there is a canonical version in contrast to other versions. Same while different.

When Dr. Hawkins says there is a same God, she was not speaking with theological rigor but in common parlance of a shared history and understanding. There’s a perception of a same quality of God’s being, even as God is actually rather different in Islam and Christianity. Which is why I don’t see Dr. Hawkins as violating the Statement of Beliefs at Wheaton and think it rather anti-intellectual for Wheaton to accuse her of doing so. We can, and should, have conversations about the differences between Islam and Christianity in both practice and theology. The revelation of Jesus makes a radical difference and the understanding of God as Trinity is vitally important.

Though, of course, if you asked the great majority of Christians to describe the Trinity, they’d likely fall into one of the classical heresies. Even if they claim to be theologically conservative, they wouldn’t be talking about the exact same God as the one the church believes in.

Maybe that’s why I hear Dr. Hawkins statement with a lot of grace and respect the attitude and purpose in which it was said. People say all sorts of wrong things about God, even and often from pulpits. Heaven help the person who is always looking to be offended when no offense was intended or implied. I would guess that anyone at Wheaton, including the President, could be accused of violating the Statement of Faith based on a particular interpretation and exactness of that statement. That way lies chaos, of course.

Which leads to a good lesson: Hear others as we would like to be heard.

Posted in academia, church, Wheaton | 1 Comment

Christianity as Community

What does the community that corresponds to the triune God and lives in him look like? We find the classic text for this in Acts 4:32-37:

“The company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common…There was not a needy person among them.”

This so-called early Christian communism was not a social programme; it was the expression of the new Trinitarian experience of sociality. These Christians put their community above the individual and above their individual private possessions.

They no longer needed these possessions in order to make their lives secure. In the spirit of the resurrection their fear of death disappeared, and with it the greed for life. And so they had enough, more than enough.

This community ends the competitive struggle which turns people into lonely individuals, and the social frigidity of a heartless world disappears. What comes to an end with this community is also ‘the strong hand’ of the state, which forcibly keeps people from becoming a ‘wolf’ for someone else. This community can settle its affairs by itself.

~Jurgen Moltmann, Sun of Righteousness Arise!, 162.

Posted in church, Holy Spirit, Moltmann, quotes | 5 Comments

In talking about the church of his era (around 200) an African writer notes: “But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See, they say, how they love one another, for themselves are animated by mutual hatred; how they are ready even to die for one another, for they themselves will sooner put to death.”

~Tertullian, Apology, ch.39

See, how they love one another.  Is this what people think of Christians in our era?  If we take the Bible seriously, then it should be.  Indeed, as 1 John writes most clearly,  “The person who does not love remains in death.”

John doesn’t mention anything about doctrinal disagreements and preciseness as being a marker of a good Christian.  No doubt, he forgot to add that. Fortunately, the later churches were able to correct his work in their actions and behavior. Taking the Bible seriously came to mean emphasizing a great many elements the original authors didn’t feel inclined to highlight.

Which is where Fundamentalism got it wrong. They emphasized the debates not the love, the division not the hope.

Love is the fundamental element of Christian theology. God is love.  “This is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love each other as he commanded us.” 

Without love, theology and churches are just clashing cymbals of dysfunctional religion.

There should be a neo-fundamentalism, where the marker is radical love and inviting hope.  There certainly is this, examples abound, but the other kind, the angry and frustrated and divisive kind, gets a lot more press.  How do we change that in our lives?

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sit right back and you’ll hear a tale about the Apostle John

 

Excerpt from “Who is the Rich Man that Shall Be Saved” by Clement of Alexandria

Ch. 42

And that you may be still more confident, that repenting thus truly there remains for you a sure hope of salvation, listen to a tale, which is not a tale but a narrative, handed down and committed to the custody of memory, about the Apostle John. For when, on the tyrant’s death, he returned to Ephesus from the isle of Patmos, he went away, being invited, to the contiguous territories of the nations, here to appoint bishops, there to set in order whole Churches, there to ordain such as were marked out by the Spirit.

stJohntheApostleWhen he had come to one of the cities not far away (the name of which is given by some ), and had consoled the brethren in other matters, he finally turned to the bishop that had been appointed, and seeing a youth of powerful physique, of pleasing appearance, and of ardent temperament, he said, `This one I commit to you in all earnestness in the presence of the Church and with Christ as witness.’ And when the bishop had accepted the Charge and had promised all, he repeated the same injunction with an appeal to the same witnesses, and then departed for Ephesus.

But the presbyter taking home the youth committed to him, reared, kept, cherished, and finally baptized him. After this he relaxed his stricter care and watchfulness, with the idea that in putting upon him the seal of the Lord he had given him a perfect protection.

But some youths of his own age, idle and dissolute, and accustomed to evil practices, corrupted him when he was thus prematurely freed from restraint. At first they enticed him by costly entertainments; then, when they went forth at night for robbery, they took him with them, and finally they demanded that he should unite with them in some greater crime.

He gradually became accustomed to such practices, and on account of the positiveness of his character, leaving the right path, and taking the bit in his teeth like a hard-mouthed and powerful horse, he rushed the more violently down into the depths.

And finally despairing of salvation in God, he no longer meditated what was insignificant, but having committed some great crime, since he was now lost once for all, he expected to suffer a like fate with the rest. Taking them, therefore, and forming a band of robbers, he became a bold bandit-chief, the most violent, most bloody, most cruel of them all.

Time passed, and some necessity having arisen, they sent for John. But he, when he had set in order the other matters on account of which he had come, said, `Come, O bishop, restore us the deposit which both I and Christ committed to you, the church, over which you preside, being witness.’

But the bishop was at first confounded, thinking that he was falsely charged in regard to money which he had not received, and he could neither believe the accusation respecting what he had not, nor could he disbelieve John. But when he said, `I demand the young man and the soul of the brother,’ the old man, groaning deeply and at the same time bursting into tears, said, `He is dead.’ `How and what kind of death?’ `He is dead to God,’ he said; `for he turned wicked and abandoned, and at last a robber. And now, instead of the church, he haunts the mountain with a band like himself.’

st johnBut the Apostle rent his clothes, and beating his head with great lamentation, he said, `A fine guard I left for a brother’s soul! But let a horse be brought me, and let some one show me the way.’ He rode away from the church just as he was, and coming to the place, he was taken prisoner by the robbers’ outpost.

He, however, neither fled nor made entreaty, but cried out, `For this did I come; lead me to your captain.’

The latter, meanwhile, was waiting, armed as he was. But when he recognized John approaching, he turned in shame to flee.

But John, forgetting his age, pursued him with all his might, crying out, `Why, my son, do you flee from me, your own father, unarmed, aged? Pity me, my son; fear not; you still have hope of life. I will give account to Christ for you. If need be, I will willingly endure your death as the Lord suffered death for us. For you will I give up my life. Stand, believe; Christ has sent me.’

And he, when he heard, first stopped and looked down; then he threw away his arms, and then trembled and wept bitterly. And when the old man approached, he embraced him, making confession with lamentations as he was able, baptizing himself a second time with tears, and concealing only his right hand.

But John, pledging himself, and assuring him on oath that he would find forgiveness with the Savior, besought him, fell upon his knees, kissed his right hand itself as if now purified by repentance, and led him back to the church. And making intercession for him with copious prayers, and struggling together with him in continual fastings, and subduing his mind by various utterances, he did not depart, as they say, until he had restored him to the church, furnishing a great example of true repentance and a great proof of regeneration, a trophy of a visible resurrection.”

Posted in church, history, quotes | 5 Comments

What does it mean to be a transformative church?

What does it mean to be a transformative church?The Transformative Church

Two elements orient my overall purpose.

  1. A church is transformative when it engages in the development of people to better reflect the life of Christ in their lives

  2. and when this transformation then extends itself beyond the boundaries of a church community, as such people live their lives in new ways wherever they are.

We become in the church who we are to be in the
world.

Read more…

Posted in church, emerging church, missional, theology, Transformative Church, writing | 6 Comments

hope in faithful insecurity

“When a community lets itself be guided in its growth by the cry of the poor and their needs, it will walk in the desert and it will be insecure. But it is assured of the promised land–not the one of security, but the one of peace and love.  And it will be a community which is always alive.”

~Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, 142ff.

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