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.
In the midst of holiday celebrations and preparations, a round of the stomach virus, A studying for her upcoming finals and the day-to-day parenting mayhem this week I stumbled on this article on what a four-year-old should know and it has stopped me in my tracks. I can get very impatient with my kids, often about getting things done and behaving well, but also about what they do or don’t know or what they will or won’t try. Why hasn’t she learned yet that she always needs to… Why won’t he just sit down and do this… It is hard in my often hectic-feeling life and our competitive culture not to feel behind, and not to look at my kids sometimes and think of them as behind, when what is really important is a different set of things entirely.
1. She should know that she is loved wholly and unconditionally, all of the time.
2. He should know that he is safe and he should know how to keep himself safe in public, with others, and in varied situations. He should know that he can trust his instincts about people and that he never has to do something that doesn’t feel right, no matter who is asking. He should know his personal rights and that his family will back them up.
3. She should know how to laugh, act silly, be goofy and use her imagination. She should know that it is always okay to paint the sky orange and give cats 6 legs.
This advice for parents is gold too:
That being the smartest or most accomplished kid in class has never had any bearing on being the happiest. We are so caught up in trying to give our children “advantages” that we’re giving them lives as multi-tasked and stressful as ours. One of the biggest advantages we can give our children is a simple, carefree childhood.
I have no further comments. I am still digesting.
I am not big on “what if” as a bottom line. I went to a church once for several years where it seemed every sermon ended with a what-if appeal. “What if we all acted this way? What if every one of us prayed daily for such and such? What if everyone in the world was able to know…”
These fall for me in the category of daydreaming or inspirational chain mail. “Pass this on – think of the difference it would make if everyone did this.” What-ifs are powerful in the right context. But on their own they leave you gazing into the sky, until you shake it off and get back to life.
What-ifs are probably more aptly put in the category of dreaming and visions. Can you imagine a future where… But on their own they have no power to take anyone anywhere. If I am trying to change your mind or inspire you to join up with something, I need to give you more than just a compelling vision. I need to suggest how we get there. If leadership is essentially all about getting someone from one place to another, it does only so much good to describe just how great the other place is. I need to show you the way there, and be heading there myself.
image courtesy of emplifya on deviantart.com
I am lonely at my job. That is not my job’s fault. I want more out of life, that is the problem. What I want out of life is not the big, life-dream, I-was-made-for-this-moment event. I want connection. And reality. Something meaningful to someone else, or several someone elses. This week I thought I would probably feel pretty fulfilled as a stay at home dad. Not because I got to stay at home but because I would be investing my days in something that really matters to me.
Alas, that’s not an option. But a nice thought.
Conversation is key to my spiritual experience. Like the life dream, connecting with God is not the big calling, leave thy home and go forth to a land I will show you connecting. It is every day. Like a friend of mine put it this morning, it is another relationship I make time for and maintain. It is the accumulaion of a lot of little things over time, not a big one-off Word From God that changes the world. He never does that, I think, Jesus included. He wants relationship before obedience. Am I writing theology here? I better move on.
Life is crazy when no one is home in time to make dinner. Not that dinner is the point, but it is the last stop on the road of mantaining the house during the day. And lately we have had popcorn and corn chips for dinner about once a week. Which actually has been strangely freeing. Family movie nights are becoming a regular event, mostly because there are precious few other family events in our week. So tonight we are eating Dominos in the living room and watching Snow White. And maybe Toy Story 3 after that.
So we went to Disney World for a week, which was awesome, with my parents, who are awesome, who have been married 35 years, which is super-awesome, and stopping both ways on the way to stay with my brother-in-law and his family, who are also…what is the word I am looking for…ah yes. Awesome. Four days of driving, six days of walking in the Florida sun (melt), and one unforgettable family vacation.
So here’s my wookiee of the day. And by wookiee I mean Chewie, and by Chewie I mean what I have been chewing on. But you followed that anyway, right? Perhaps it is a bit of the post-vacation downers, the back-to-reality blues, but I’ve been thinking on a deeper level about my life, as in my lifestyle and how it pertains to my faith, and vice versa.
A and I were talking the other night about purpose, and big dreams, and how they look very different these days (when they show up at all) than they did seven years ago – i.e., before we had kids and careers. We both attended a church for several years that encouraged us to think big, and live radically, and expect big things in and through our lives through our faith. Which actually isn’t all that far-fetched, especially if you’ve read much of the Bible at all.
I bought it then in the context of my life and that community, and I think it’s fair to say that in some fashion I’m still sold on this. I remember thinking once we had moved to Ohio and begun looking for a new church community to call home that I had been “ruined” for church since there don’t seem to be many other churches out there that share this bigness of vision, at least not in a balanced and authentic sort of way.
So what is this disconnect? Is it really all fun and games when you’re young and untethered enough for a life of risky faith, and then you grow up, settle down and have kids and have to get on with real life? In a sense maybe so. There are things I was free to do in my youth that are much more difficult for me to consider now – quitting my job, starting a new career, moving halfway across the country, giving away all my money. Yup folks, that was my twenties.
But maybe it’s that the game has changed. Having a career, a house, a family are not bad things to be sure. And I don’t believe that they necessarily prevent you from living a life of dynamic faith. Although that’s not what my life has felt like lately, which of course is what got me started thinking about all this in the first place.
So how do you stay connected to a faith that is alive and life-giving when so much of life seems…not bad, but….routine? Is a life of faith really not about having a significant impact, but something else? If so, what? Being happy? And if not, then is this stage of life a waystation on the journey to significance?
Significance sounds a bit haughty when I use it like that. Like I wanna be somebody, get famous or influential. That’s not what I mean. I used to mean that, I think, or something like it. Influential, maybe, is right. Have a positive impact on as many people as I can. Which is different from being a celebrated author or successful leader. Usually.
So what does this purpose, for lack of a better word, look like? Is it measurable through external means at all?
As in how many people my faith and love affect, or how deeply a person or people is affected by it? Is it aspecific task or event that a person is born for, as with the tiny title character in John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany? (If so, what if you miss it? Or what do you do with the rest of your life if it happens when you’re 33, like with Jesus? OK, don’t answer that one.) Or is it not an event, but perhaps a number of events, or a faith-vocation of sorts? Or on the other hand is it just to live the most loving and faith-filled life as you can, seeking God as much as you can, even if no one particularly seems impressed?
Seriously: only 11 posts all year? What a lame-o blog you are reading. A person starts a blog because they have something to write about. When I started this blog I had something to write about. Actually, here’s something I never told you. When I started this blog what I wanted to write about was my thoughts on how to do church. It was the fall of 2007 and I had all sorts of thoughts about worship leading and prayer and getting small groups of people together and just doing life together, and I was thinking about how church didn’t need to be done the way church is always done in the tradition I come from. I had been in a volunteer or leadership role of some kind in a church or parachurch organization for around 12 years and I had a few things to say about what I thought it was all about.
However 2007 was also the year the last church I led in closed down, and other significant circumstances in my life all whirled into one mighty storm, and pretty soon what I had to say about church organization and service structures didn’t seem quite so important anymore. The topic on my mind was now this storm, and getting the hell out of it. And, you may have noticed, that pretty much occupied all my thinking and processing on this blog, with the occasional distraction, until this year.
Now the storm has passed (hurray), and, if I may extend the metaphor, I have looked around and noticed I seem to be in the middle of the ocean. Not all by myself, fortunately, but with family and friends around me and activities I am involved in. A pretty good life, I think. But I am in the middle of the ocean. I lost sight of land long ago and now when I’m not actively combating it I feel listless and without direction, and overall without much to say.
On the other hand I have three little impetuses (not to be confused with imps) who keep me busy and right now are careening around the room waiting for me to play with them. So for the next half hour at least, I have a direction.