I was struck by this post, called An Open Apology, which Joe also read in church this week. He essentially proposes that the best form of apologetics is apologizing – demonstrating that God is real by apologizing up front for the things people have done in his name, rather than by careful reasoning and arguments (which also have their place). I identify with this expression of faith much more than what the word evangelism is typically taken to mean.
I found this quote today, attributed to Gandhi:
“The message of Jesus as I understand it, is contained in the Sermon on the Mount unadulterated and taken as a whole. If then I had to face only the Sermon on the Mount and my own interpretation of it, I should not hesitate to say, ‘Oh, yes, I am a Christian.’ But negatively I can tell you that in my humble opinion, what passes as Christianity is a negation of the Sermon on the Mount.” ~Mohandas Gandhi
I really like this quote (and other similar things he said). Gandhi seemed fairly adept at calling a spade a spade when it comes to the hypocrisies of Western Christianity. In that regard, I am totally with him. From an outsider’s perspective it sums up pretty well how we Christians aren’t quite living up to Jesus’ call, and have headed down our own paths to the Kingdom of God enough that the term “Christian” tends to call to mind someone pretty well opposite of the kind of person the Sermon on the Mount describes.
On the other hand, I think in saying this he may be understating Jesus’ message. The Sermon on the Mount is a picture of how followers of Jesus should live, a personal and cultural code of conduct showing them how to relate to God and be the “light of the world”, a people who embody God’s love on the earth. Jesus was calling a new people out from Israel just as the Mosaic Law called Israel out from the nations. (To be fair, Jesus was calling all of Israel, whoever would listen to him.)
But to say Jesus’ message ended there misses the point I think. I am thinking (and rethinking) through many of these things, but here is where I am at right now. Jesus didn’t just say “here is how to live, now everyone go do it,” he actually showed the way, which involves a whole lot of humility, holding your tongue, and putting yourself after other people, among other things. And, most importantly, Jesus went first down the path through death and resurrection. The promise of his teachings isn’t just a moral and loving society but a world reconciled to God in a complete and permanent way. His message in the Sermon on the Mount (and everywhere else he taught) is “the kingdom of God is here.” His message in the cross and his resurrection is “follow me to enter it.” His actions paved the way for everyone else to follow, and somehow provided the ability for us to do it.
This is an incomplete thought right now. Jesus made statements and actions that I think pointed to himself as inexorably connected with his message but I am still sorting those out. And then there is the question of why he seemed to knowingly march straight into the custody of his murderers as if his death was not just inevitable, but chosen and necessary. In any case, he doesn’t seem to consider himself as just a moral teacher, but something more than that, and by extension he wouldn’t consider his teachings to be separable from his life.
Jonathan Brink, author of Discovering the God Imagination, has offered a free copy of his book for helping promote his online class. I’ve followed his blog for a while and found his perspectives on relating to God to be intriguing and often helpful. I can’t recommend the book, having not read it yet, but with this post I intend to rectify that. Below is originally from his site:
Many of you have asked me what resources are available for Discovering The God Imagination. I’m pleased to announce that we’re finally announcing an online class with BeADisciple.com, a division of Southwestern College.
Dates: January 3 to February 18, 2011
The class will explore the book over seven weeks and will include online interaction with those who are also reading the book. If you’ve read the book and want to explore it in dialog in community, this is your chance to do so.
This seven week class is limited to the first 20 participants, so if you’re interested, I would encourage you to sign up today. I’m really looking forward to the dialog that will happen over the seven weeks.
The class takes place online using Blackboard’s classroom technology. If you’ve used it before you’ll know it’s really simple to use.
Complaining has been a problem for me recently. Or rather I’ve had no problem complaining, it’s the toxic fallout of stewing, criticizing, looking for worst-case scenarios and playing out arguments in my head that has plagued me. I discovered this quote from Richard Rohr today that resonates with me:
“I will offer you a simple litmus test to determine whether a person has healthy or unhealthy religion. What do they do with their pain—even their daily little disappointments? Do they transform their pain or do they transmit it?
We all have pain—it’s the human situation, we all carry it in a big black bag behind us and it gets heavier as we get older: by betrayals, rejections, disappointments, and wounds that are inflicted along the way. If we do not find some way to transform our pain, I can tell you with 100% certitude we will transmit it to those around us.
At the end of life, and probably early in life, too, the question is, “What do I do with this disappointment, with this absurdity, with this sadness?”
I have known people who carry their big black bag on their chest and open it up for you as often as speak to you. And I’ve known other folks whose bag somehow seems to have a perpetual hole in the bottom.
I was talking with a friend the other day about responding to pain. And to another friend about adjusting our attitude. And with both the consensus was this is no small matter. It is one thing to practice the habits that essentially amount to squeezing my eyes tight and whistling along with Monty Python (come on, you know it),
Always look on the bright side of life…
It’s quite another thing to make a fundamental worldview shift and learn to deal with the vast quantities of pain and disappointment I encounter in a transformative way rather than deny it and/or transmit it. On the other hand, as I admitted in yet another recent conversation (interesting how most of my processing these days is through conversation), I used to be the sort of person who who contributed more positively and constructively to my world; lately I seem to be trending toward the negative. So on these terms at least my worldview has already shifted at least once.
In an article on suffering, a Harvard Law Professor writes about his own suffering ,
“Cancer and chronic pain remain ugly things, but the enterprise of living with them is not an ugly thing.”
This strikes me as close to reality. The “enterprise of living” with pain, disappointment and tragedy is not by definition a bad thing, though the pain itself is notably convincing to the contrary. Is misery as much a self-chosen mantle as joy and hopefulness then? Is a profound worldview change as simple as a deliberate series of choices? I figure if I got myself here somehow, then somehow there is a way out.
“If only we men weren’t such junkies for risk and success, if only we weren’t so aggressive, if only we could reign in our sex drives, if only we were more like women, the world would be a much better place, right?”
photo credit: redbubble.com
My prayer life is so spotty largely because I get frozen when it comes to what to say or figuring out what I really want to pray about or how I’m really feeling about something rather than praying as a natural extension of my life and thoughts without all the constant metaprocessing and backstepping and analyzing. And deep down I find I’m also looking for an experience each time – some moment of peace or clarity or otherness that lets me know I’ve connected with God rather than just blabbered at the windshield. Miller has this to say:
Don’t hunt for a feeling in prayer. Deep in our psyches we want an experience with God or an experience in prayer. Once we make that our quest, we lose God. You don’t experience God; you get to know him. You submit to him, you enjoy him. He is, after all, a person.
I’ve heard the exhortation to be natural in prayer, to speak as I would to a friend rather than composing religious-sounding language. And I’ve heard the one that says don’t go experience-hunting. This though somehow strikes me differently. It goes beyond just prayer for me – it challenges my perception of God. If I’m looking primarily to experience God, then to me he is an event or a set of circumstances. If I’m looking to get to know him, then he is free to be a person, and experience is only a part of the relationship. Joe quotes Miller again as saying,
In prayer, focusing on the conversation is like trying to drive while looking at the windshield instead of through it. It freezes us, making us unsure of where to go.
With a relationship it’s like spending all your time thinking and discussing how the relationship is going rather than just having it. There are downsides to being überanalytical when there’s life to be lived.