Friday, December 24, 2004

Going Home

It's plenty cold, yet the sun is out and I can hear kids playing in the neighborhood. Piper is down for a nap, and I think Celeste actually is too, so not a creature is stirring in my house except me. The tree is lit up, the stockings are hung, the gifts are wrapped, and I am so very blessed. God is so good!

This evening there is a worship gathering at church, and I'm really looking forward to that. Worship is always good, but there's something about the Christmas season that seems to sort of wrap worship like a warm blanket. After that we'll come home and open a few gifts, then put Piper to bed and probably watch Bing in White Christmas.

On Christmas day we'll leave mid-morning for Tulsa, OK, to see a lot of my family there. We'll have a get-together Sunday afternoon/evening with my Dad, Jara, 5 of my siblings, along with associated spouses and children. On Monday we'll get with my mom, who will meet us at my sister's house there. I think the only one missing will be my older brother, who lives in Maryland -- and he'll definitely be missed.

I grew up in Tulsa, but haven't had Christmas there in 10 years, and I'm finding that going back is a little nostalgic. Things have changed a lot there, and yet much is still the same. One thing is sure: I will eat Mazzio's pizza while I'm there, or there will be trouble.

On Wednesday we'll pack up the van and drive on up to Salina, KS, Celeste's home town, to see her family. They have always had Christmas for their immediate family on New Year's Day, which is a huge blessing in answering the age-old question 'who will we visit for Christmas?' We'll return from Kansas on the 1st, and be back in time to be home at SBC again on Sunday morning.

All in all, the trip will probably be a bit hectic, and our biggest hope is that we can get Piper to sleep well while we're in so many 'strange' places. But even with all of that, in the end we're simply making a big loop, constantly going home. Home to Tulsa, home to Salina, then back home to Texas.

Is anyone else ready to go Home? Maranatha!

Friday, December 17, 2004

The Bible and PostModernity - Part I

In McLaren's A New Kind of Christian, he spends a good deal of time talking about the Bible in terms of our understanding of it, how we follow it, and how we let it work on us.

McLaren points out that when it comes to interpreting the Bible, there is a continuum of perspective with conservatives at one end and liberals on the other. McLaren starts out by acknowledging the importance of parts of each of those positions. Conservatives are trying to maintain the integrity of the Word as it was written; Liberals are keen to ensure that we don't allow our current understanding of the Bible to keep us from questioning it, particularly in light of current scientific discoveries, etc.

He goes on to say that both groups view the scriptures through what he calls a 'grid of decency', which helps them determine which scriptures apply today and which don't. He says that many of the debates about the absolute authority of the Bible are really arguments about the traditional grid through which conservatives read the Bible.

McLaren gives some convincing examples (Paul said women shouldn't wear jewelry -- what's that about?), some ridiculous examples (polygamy is mentioned as if one of McLaren's characters thinks that the Bible condones it, which I found to be ridiculous), and finally an historical example (slavery was once defended by conservative Christians). And then he basically says that Christians should always be open to being corrected about our interpretations.

Generally, I think I understand McLaren's point. We as Christians need to stop living as though we have all the answers, because only God has all the answers.

At the same time I'm left wondering what that looks like with skin on it. It would have helped me if McLaren had stuck with examples that made good sense to me; by including polygamy as a questionable subject in scripture, he leaves me wondering when we cross the line between accepting differing 'grids' and accepting false teaching.

But then, maybe he did that on purpose, to stir the pot.


Thursday, December 16, 2004

The Rug

No, this is not a post about a hairpiece.

I was reminded this morning of something that Keith said in a message a month or two back about trusting God. He said that the thing about trusting God is that he'll never pull the rug out from under you.

As he said it that morning, my knee-jerk reaction was to think to myself, that's not true. I mean, after all, I've had the rug pulled out from under me many times. And then another thought struck me:

If that's true, then you must have been standing on the wrong rug.

Where are you standing these days?

Shalom, Brian

Saturday, December 11, 2004

PostModern Christianity

Its been quite a week. I came down with an upper respiratory infection early in the week, which made me almost lose my voice, and I stayed home sick from work for a couple of days. However, I've been to the doctor, got prescription, and am just about back to normal (whatever that means). So diving right in tonight:

Early on in McLaren's A New Kind of Christian, one of the characters asks the other to distinguish between postmodern Christians and traditional Christians. The other character responds by saying that, "...if you succeed in creating a postmodern framework, I think you've just sabotaged it." His point seems to be that in the Modern world we tend to reduce any subject down to a list of main points or themes, and in so doing we oversimplify things and take them out of context to some extent. He seems to be saying that PostModernity, by its very nature, cannot be summarized in a few words.

But of course, the purpose of the book is to help people begin to recognize PostModernity and what its all about, so I don't think McLaren would object too much if I skip to the end and provide a summary of what he (or at least the PostModern character in the book) perceives to be the primary areas of change in a PostModern Christian.

That said, each of the items below are themes he highlights in the book. My plan is to post about at least a few of these items, maybe all of them, so as to flesh them out a bit, perhaps add a few thoughts of my own, and help my closer friends begin to think through some of these issues, perhaps more fully than we have before.

One more caveat before you read the list below. Looking over the list, I suspect that someone with a conservative Christian background (like my own) might read that list and become concerned for McLaren (or even for me in reading this book and writing about it here). I mean, if I were to read a headline saying that Christians should 'change their posture in relation to other religions,' I would possibly infer that the writer must believe that Jesus isn't the only way to God. But that's really not what that bullet is talking about, and several of the others are not exactly what they seem as well. So...if you're tempted to read that list and blow this off, stay with me a little bit longer.

Sorry, one other caveat: I'm no expert in any of this, only an interested party, so in the list below or in the following posts I may have some of these wrong or at least off-kilter. Still, I think they are good food for thought:

Important Areas of Change for PostModern Christians
  • Our understanding of the Bible, how we follow it, and how we let it work on us
  • Our posture in relation to other religions
  • Our releasing of the ways in which our faith has been enmeshed with modernity
  • Our exploration of theology free of the constricting, reductionistic categories of modernity
  • Our escape from the narrowing of the gospel to an individualistic story about saving souls to a missional, communal, and global story about saving the world
  • Our discovery of forms of authentic spirituality that are broader than our modern pietism

More to come shortly. Peace and love, and Merry Christmas,


Monday, December 06, 2004

Being Positive...and the Dance

I finished McLaren's A New Kind of Christian last week, and around the same time I was skimming back through some of my previous posts (is that vain? I'm new to this whole blogging thing...), and I couldn't help but notice that most of the posts about the book have been pretty negative. This is particularly unfortunate because the truth is that I agree with most everything in the book. I guess I tend to read critically sometimes, and as a result I focus on things that I question or disagree with rather than focusing on things that seem right or even obvious.

With that in mind, I went back through the book and made note of some of the many great points McLaren makes, and I thought I'd post a comments about some of those items over the next few days. (Besides, considering some of the unfortunate things my church is going through right now, it's good for my spirit to put some effort into being positive.) So without further ado...

The Dance

In several places in the book, McLaren points out that many Christians (myself included) have been conditioned to think of evangelism sort of like a sales pitch. We go to a car dealership and the salesperson is usually polite, helpful, etc, but as soon as they can they'll ask some variation of the question we all probably recognize: 'what would it take to earn your business today?' Similarly, according to many sermons, radio programs, classes, and tracts (!) in my experience, the point of evangelism is often about 'getting your butt into heaven' (McLaren's words).

McLaren goes on to point out that this approach runs the risk of 'attracting people who want salvation from hell without actually wanting salvation from sin,' as if the saved are 'chosen for privilege, not sacrificial service.'

Additionally, he points out the individualism of this approach to evangelism can come across as downright evil. For example, he explains, "a good-hearted person might respond, 'I love my neighbor, and if you're offering me something that my neighbors can't have, then I don't want it.' However, if it were put in the service context, ... the reverse would be true: 'I love my neighbors, and if receiving God's salvation will help me help them, then I want it!' "

Elsewhere, McLaren goes on to re-frame evangelism in a different way:

Instead of conquest, instead of a coercive rational argument or an emotionally intimidating sales pitch or an imposing crusade or an aggressive debating contest where we hope to 'win' them to Christ, I think of it like a dance. You know, in a dance, nobody wins and nobody loses. Both parties listen to the music and try to move with it. In this case, I hear the music of the gospel, and my friend doesn't, so I try to help him hear it and move with it. And like a dance, I have to ask if the other person wants to participate. There's a term for pulling someone who doesn't want to dance into a dance: assault. But if you pull someone in who wants to learn, and if you're good with the music yourself, it can be a lot of fun!

And that reminds me of the lyrics from a great song we sing at church sometimes:

We will dance on the streets that are golden,
The glorious bride and the great Son of Man.
From every tongue and tribe and nation we'll join
in the song of the lamb!

May God's people listen to the music, and invite others to dance!

God bless,

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Church Divisions

I must say that I've never witnessed anything like what happened Sunday afternoon at church, and I hope I never do again. I heard it called a shouting match, and I wondered at one point if it might become a boxing match as well. I was really embarrassed at some of the behavior I saw.

I did happen to read something in McLaren's A New Kind of Christian that I thought was interesting at the time and that seems poignant given yesterday's meeting. Again, McLaren's book is written as a fictional conversation between a pastor and another individual, and the conversations cover a range of topics relating to Christianity in the PostModern world. In this paragraph, the pastor character has just related an issue that has come up within his church, and makes some general comments about how these divisive issues tend to develop within a church. He writes:

...these situations follow a pattern. Parishioners experience some personal offense – loss in power, hurt feelings about something. This causes withdrawal. They begin keeping a mental notebook, noting all additional offenses. “Demerits” add up, and a conspiracy theory develops. They can’t help but talk about it, and “concern” spreads. If I don't address it, they drift away, and their leaving adds a demerit in the mental notebook of others.

From my perspective this is a pretty accurate description of some of the events that led up to the meeting at church, and some of the comments that were made illustrated this well. Many at Southlake are well aware of the hurt feelings that one group had toward a particular Shepherd. Certainly we all heard a list of offenses (demerits?) Sunday from individuals in that group. And can anyone question whether a conspiracy theory was posed? People decrying that 'the truth would be welcome', implying that the Shepherds were hiding something, that they must have some alterior motivation for making decisions as they have. People saying that the Shepherds had no accountability for their actions. And it was specifically mentioned that other families had already left our church.

Frankly, if it weren't so heartbreakingly sad, it would be fascinating how closely McLaren's words mirror what has happened at SBC. (I hope it's obvious where the script above begins to veer from the direction the church is given in Scripture regarding relational problems. If anyone would care for me to elaborate, let me know.)

And I suppose someone might say that even if the quote above is applicable to this situation, that the last sentence is particularly applicable in that the problems still exist because our church leadership didn't address them. But I suspect that they've done more to address the problems than we realize -- just not publicly. Even in regards to the meeting, I appreciated the way they at least tried to manage the tone of the discussion by trying to use index cards to capture the questions, despite the fact that the meeting deteriorated into a shouting match anyway.

I've actually seen the 'index card question' method used very successfully in business meetings related to the outsourcing world, where groups of employees are being told that their current employer is outsourcing them to a different employer. Those meetings are also very tense, and could turn very ugly if they are allowed to go that route. To keep the meeting on-track, people are sometimes asked to write their questions anonymously on index cards, which can then be sorted into groups of redundant questions, and those questions are addressed as well as possible (not always perfectly but that's the real world). That way the meeting can end and people can move on without having seen who can yell the loudest.

My personal opinion is that I participated (along with much of the church) in the process to select our current Shepherds, and despite Sunday's demand from a vocal minority that they all step down, I will continue to submit myself to them. I still love and respect these men, and I trust them. Furthermore, relating specifically to the decision that was announced Sunday to let Keith go, even if someone doesn't fully trust the Shepherds for whatever reason, surely the fact that the rest of the staff are in agreement should mean something. I mean, if someone really believes that there's not a single trustworthy Shepherd or staff member at our church, I must suggest that they should begin looking for a place where they can worship and serve and at the same time trust the leadership of the body.

Anyway, as this is heavy on my heart right now I thought I'd post a few thoughts. I wonder how long it will take our church body to move beyond this...

Grace and peace, Brian