Step by Step Journey: Writings of Richard Dahlstrom - because there's always a next step

The need for Lament…

by , on
Feb 10, 2010

Survey the landscape of American Christianity on any given Sunday and you’ll find plenty of evidence that God is on the throne, we’re walking in victory, and Satan’s utterly crushed.  There are lots of praise choruses about our victory and God’s goodness, along with clapping and shouting “praise the Lord”.   It’s the winning team for certain, at least if noise and bravado is any indicator.

Unfortunately, it’s not.  Have you seen the movies from the Youth Rallies during the reign of the Reich?  The singing and enthusiasm would make most Pentecostals appear as stoic Lutherans in comparison.  Singing slogans about victory doesn’t make them true, and the sad fact of the matter is that for many of the people singing, the words of victory ring hollow to them.  They sing about triumph over sin, but are mired in addiction.  They sing about God’s power in the world, while their spouse is in the last stages of cancer.  They sing about peace, while their neighbor’s kid lost his leg in Iraq.   For millions the words, if the singers stop to ponder them, seem hollow at best, perhaps even a lie.

I’ll go on record as being for praise music.  I like it, and play it on my ipod sometimes in the car when I’m driving alone.  But if the Psalms offers the full range of emotions, I’m wondering if it doesn’t also offer a decent example of the proper proportion between praise and lament.  If it does, then we’re way too heavy on the praise side of things.   By minimizing lament, we’re teaching people to process the real world in a different way than the saints who’ve gone before us, teaching them to plaster over their grief with a dose of loud singing, or snappy ‘feel good’ songs.  The distance between these pleasant tunes and the emotions of a heart that’s broken, or fearful, is large enough to stretch someone’s faith to the breaking point.

In contrast, a look at church history shows us that those who take their complaints, fears, failures, and doubts to God, will find real answers, real transformation.  Abraham:  “What will you give me, since I’m childless?“,  Moses:  “...please kill me at once“, David, “How long O Lord?”, Paul, “we despaired even of life.” I could go on with Jeremiah, Job, John the Baptist, and many more, but you get the point.  For every dance on the far side of the Red Sea, there’s a question, a weariness, a complaint.  There are, to hearken back to this past Sunday’s teaching, honest to God questions and struggles, wrestlings that in the end might well leave us wrung out, but intimate.

The problem is that few were told about the ‘wrung out’ part when they came to faith.  This is because too often we’ve sold people on some sort of hybrid Jesus.  There’s the real Jesus part having to do with his death on the cross and then there’s Jesus CEO, enabling us to climb the success leader, or Jesus Therapist, assuring us of successful marriages, or Jesus CFO, assuring us of wealth, Dr. Jesus, assuring us of great health, or Jesus military commander, protecting us from IED’s.  These ‘add ons’ speak more to our desires for health, wealth, and happiness than our calling as disciples, because the reality is that stuff happens – to Christians.

When it does, I hope the struggling saints don’t walk into a worship service three weeks in a row without hearing, somewhere in the gathering, that those who mourn are blessed, or a song of longing, or a prayer of waiting and crying out.  Lacking that, they’ll eventually presume that this well dressed, clear eyed, upwardly mobile Jesus doesn’t have much to say to them.  They’d be right, but they’d only be rejecting the success Jesus of American dreams.  The real one was called the man of sorrows.  I just hope there’s still room for him in church.

I welcome your thoughts.

The Dilemma of Pluralism

by , on
Feb 3, 2010

This morning’s BBC report discloses that the French government has refused to grant citizenship to man because he is forcing his wife to wear the ‘full veil’.  Because she is not free to ‘come and go with her face uncovered’, this man’s values place him a category of person to whom the French government denies citizenship.  It is recommended by the French government that anyone showing signs of “radical religious practice” be refused citizenship.

I’m interested in your thoughts on this subject so I’ll just toss some questions out:

1. The phrase ‘radical religious practice’ seems ambiguous.  Isn’t ‘eating the flesh and drinking the blood’ (see John 6, or your weekly communion table) also radical?  Or living in community?  What are the risks that this ruling becomes precedent setting for all manner of religious persecution?  On the other hand, isn’t the state obligated to protect the powerless (Romans 13), and isn’t this woman being rendered powerless?  But what if she wants the full covering?

2. This man’s patriarchy no doubt offends the sensibilities of most of us reading this.  But would France also refuse to grant citizenship to a person who believed that a woman shouldn’t work outside the home while raising children?  The bigger question than the particular ruling is, in this case, how wide this ruling opens the door.

3. We live in a pluralist world, where different belief systems bump up against each other.  France is trying to understand how to be pluralist without sacrificing it’s own cultural distinctives, and this is where the rub comes.  How can we be embracing of other cultures, while maintaining our own cultural identity?  This issue is a raging river in Europe, even more so than the United States, but it’s an issue everywhere, and an important one.

Pluralism and tolerance are terribly politically correct, but we all have our limits.  You can’t be a pedophile, you can’t steal other people’s stuff; on these we all agree.  Keep talking about ethics though, and you soon come to multiple forks in the road.  If we aren’t careful, we’re going to end up using these forks to stab each other.

What are your thoughts?

The Great Divorce: read it, see it, live it.

by , on
Feb 2, 2010

Taproot Theater is presently offering a marvelous production of CS Lewis’ classic book, “The Great Divorce” on their mainstage.   After watching a play or movie derived from a book, I usually come away with a heavy preference for the book; things are left out; the visuals are other than what I’d imagined.  I go back to reading.  In this case the opposite proved to be true.  Taproot’s production is so brilliantly crafted and executed, that I left with a more profound appreciation for the book rather than less.  If you’re in the Seattle area (and for you students from Montana and Canada that are coming) I’d suggest you see it soon, because it’s slated to run only through the end of this month.

Having praised the production, I’ll quickly add that you’ll probably appreciate it best if you’ve read the book, because it’s dealing with some themes that are best digested with a little forethought.  For this reason, I’ve shopped the internet and found this review, which I think gives a good synopsis.   Love for the light, beauty, humility, joy, and strength of the redeemed becomes the main theme of the play.  I left with a deeper love for Jesus and where history is heading.

But this is a play about heaven and hell, as the review link above states.  It might surprise you to know that, among people who believe that Jesus is the single door through which we must enter if we’re going to know God, there are a wide variety of views regarding the afterlife.  This post, also shopped on the internet, offers a catalog of these views.  Some will be loathe to consider anything except view one because it is the most popular view, carrying the weight of history and orthodoxy in its favor.  All of us must rightly be suspicious of any view that deviates from orthodoxy, being slow to overturn centuries of history simply because we find some other view more appealing.  And yet…

We must also have a willing openness to re-ordering, not because a view is ‘appealing’ or unappealing, but because the scriptures themselves might offer a challenge to conventional wisdom.  When it comes to matters of heaven and hell, we need to weigh the prevailing view in light of these questions:

1. What does Matthew 11:21 mean, where Jesus indicates that Tyre would have repented had they received the light of Christ?

2. What does Philippians 2:11 mean, when Paul indicates that ‘every knee will bow, every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father?”  I know the conventional view is that the unsaved will confess after death, under duress.  Still, is there some reason Romans 10:9 (the promise that if we confess Jesus as Lord, we’ll be saved) won’t apply to them?

3. Is there anyone in hell, in the end, against their will?  Lewis’ thesis is ‘no’.  Does this fit with Jesus’ teaching in Luke 16:19-31.  I think it does, because the tormented man doesn’t ask to get out of his hell, only to be comforted in his hell.

In the end, I believe we need to deal with two realities:  1) There is a place of judgement, and there are people in it.  God’s love is infinite and relentless.  2) Provision has been made for everyone to receive the cure for the deathly disease of sin, a cure which includes a confession (Romans 10:9), a confession which all will make (Philippians 2:10,11).

In Tim Keller’s marvelous article on the importance of hell he writes, “Many, for fear of doctrinal compromise, want to put all the emphasis on God’s active judgment, and none on the self-chosen character of hell. Ironically, as we have seen, this unBiblical imbalance often makes it less of a deterrent to non-believers rather than more of one. And some can preach hell in such a way that people reform their lives only out of a self-interested fear of avoiding consequences, not out of love and loyalty to the one who embraced and experienced hell in our place. The distinction between those two motives is all-important. The first creates a moralist, the second a born-again believer.” This, it seems to me, is the central message of Lewis’ work as well.

Lewis’ said that “Divorce” wasn’t theology, or even speculation.  But the themes reflect the beliefs of his literary mentor, George MacDonald, who ultimately believes that God’s character as ‘consuming fire’ will ultimately destroy every last vestige of rebellion in every last human.

There are other themes two in “Divorce” especially regarding the role of the human will in choosing the offer of God’s cure, but I won’t go down that road in this post.  Instead I’ll recommend that you see the play, write down some questions, and we’ll set a date for a hearty discussion of the play and the doctrines it address… coming soon to a Bethany near you!

Finally: Corporations are People too!

by , on
Jan 29, 2010

There were many in the evangelical world of my youth (read: James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, et. al.) who decried the ‘liberal courts’ for overstepping their bounds by using the court as means of legislating, rather than limiting their responsibilities to ‘upholding the constitution according intent of its framers’. They viewed Roe v Wade as an example of, not merely ruling on a case, but of using a case to create and impose a new ethos that was far beyond the scope of the case at hand. How dare those liberals do that!  If only conservatives ruled the court things would be different, right?

Apparently not. The court used the case of “Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission” as a means for overturning a century of campaign finance laws, ushering in an era whereby corporations (both American, and foreign ones with US subsidiaries) are granted the same freedom of speech rights as individual Americans. The McCain/Feingold law that sought to limit the degree to which companies could influence elections (and thereby, influence elected officials) was overturned with this ruling.

So, as Stephen Colbert mockingly said last night: “Now my bank, “Morgan Stanley” has the same rights to contribute their voice to policy making in Washington as my barber, “Stanley Morgan”. Each one can donates hundreds of millions to campaigns and then, by virtue of their generosity, have access to, and influence over, the policy makers. It’s a fair battle. And may the best man win.”

All sarcasm excluded, isn’t it obvious to everyone that granting free speech rights to multi-national corporations is 1) far beyond the intent of our founding father’s intent, 2) dangerous in it’s opening that will now grant foreign companies influence over American campaigns, 3) marginalizing to common citizens, who will never be able to match the scope and wealth of large corporate spending and influence, and 4) the very kind of ‘legislative over-reach’ that conservatives have been angry about for years.

This is precisely why there’s so much anger and cynicism towards American politics. Apparently the religious right, and political conservatives weren’t really angry about the Supreme Court’s over-reach in the 70’s, but angry that the over-reach didn’t favor their ideology.  As Dobson himself has written:  “tyranny by judicial fiat is destructive to our democratic institutions.”    Now that the recent court and ruling is in line with their goals, the right has fallen strangely silent about “the intent of the framers and the tyranny of judicial fiat”.  I guess it all depends on the ruling.

When the rhetoric dies down over this ruling, the thing that will have changed is this: corporations can buy as much time to exercise ‘free speech’ and thus influence the vote, as you and I can. This isn’t good news for salmon or eagles, people who use banks and have loans, water tables, topsoil, small farmers around the world, or the artic wildlife refuge.

But it’s good news for multi-national corporations because now, when we appeal to our constitutional rights by declaring, ‘we the people’, they can spend 150 million dollars crying back: “I’m a person too!”

Modernity, Post-Modernity, and the Limits of Knowing

by , on
Jan 27, 2010

The question on the table is this:  How can we step outside of our own context fully enough to objectively assess the faith? This is the question post-modernity brings to the table.  Rather than decrying post-modernity for critiquing the arrogant declarations of certainty that have come from people of faith down through the centuries, I’d suggest at the outset, that there are things to learn from the post-modern problem:

1. They’ve pointed out the elephant in the room:  we don’t KNOW (in the same way we know that we’re reading a blog right now) the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection and the Bible.  There’s evidence; good evidence, but we don’t KNOW.

2. The reality is that our belief systems ARE shaped by our culture and upbringing in many ways.  That’s why more children grow up to become Muslims  in Iran than in Kansas.  What are we to make of this?  Do we simply declare that little kids growing up in Iran are running from the truth and those in Kansas are enlightened?  This seems a little arrogant, and a little small minded as well.  The reality is that we embrace the narrative of our culture more often than not, and this is formative in our faith declarations.

The crisis of “knowing” and the questions about objectivity and culture are valuable.  To be too quickly dismissive would be to miss some things of value.  Still, the post-modern dilemma remains:

1. Though, as the post-modern declares, I can never fully remove myself from my own context in order to objectively determine truth, I still need to believe something, and that creates a problem, because the post-modern is hesitant to believe anything at all.  However (how weird is this?), the reality is that even the claim:  “I can’t believe anything” is a belief system.  So in the end, the post-modern is faced with the dilemma of an unsustainable position because he/she, wanting to hold all belief systems at arms length, makes ‘holding-all-belief-systems-at-arms-length” their belief system.  In other words:  everybody needs to believe something!

2. If I must believe something, then the question once again becomes, “How will I decide what to believe” and it is here that I think we should embrace the humility of post-modernism by changing our language regarding truth claims from “I know” to “I believe”.  After all, this is historically how we declared our faith:  “I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth…”   Recently though, it seems that in some circles the objective has been to provide bombproof evidence regarding our truth claims so that we don’t need to say “I believe” any more.  We can say, “I know”.    To become people obsessed with providing evidence at just the moment in history when the enlightenment’s certitude is taking it’s last breath is terribly misguided.  We should instead say, “Here’s the evidence I see… and based on it, I believe.”  That’s more honest, and even in keeping with the life to which we’re called.

And what of those whose faith story is different than our own, not because of overt rejection of Christ, but because of being raised in a different environment.  I completely believe that Jesus words are true:  “I am the way the truth and the life – no man comes to the Father but through me” – how does that apply to the little kid in Iran?  I’ll save that post for another time.

Our Prayers: Thermometer of our world view…

by , on
Jan 22, 2010

I recently read a survey that indicated 90% of American men self identify as being “above average fitness” compared to their peers.  When you do the math (and even I can do this math) it becomes these men don’t have self image problems; but they are delusional.  Their problem comes, I suspect, from one of the oldest tricks in the book: confusing intention with action.  They want to exercise, want to eat right, want get enough sleep, want to cut back on coffee and alcohol.  They watch bow-flex commercials, drink low carb beer, and declare themselves ‘fitter than average’.  Intent gets confused with action.   What’s actually needed are objective measures of health; things like body mass index, resting heart rate, and the good/bad cholesterol ratio.   The harsh numbers tell the truth.

There’s a similar objective assessment, in my opinion at least, in matters of spiritual health.  Many of us say that we live in a world where God is able to intervene in history, and does intervene in history.  He changes hearts, heals bodies, brings the triumph of the cross to bear in lives that are wracked with self-loathing and guilt, sets people free.  We say God does these things, and many of us even go a step further and say that, while God is able to do whatever he wants, he sometimes partners with us mere humans, “waiting” as it were, for us to get involved in God’s activities by our doing one simple thing:  asking.

We who believe this can offer a boatload of evidence that this is true:  God steps into history to deliver Israel from slavery because he ‘hears their cry’. Hannah prayed for a son and God gave her one.  Elijah prayed for an offering to be consumed and it was.  Jesus told us that we have not because we ask not.  Later he said that ‘this kind’ (speaking of a certain demonic possession) can only come out by prayer and fasting.   It’s all through the Bible – God steps into history in response to prayers.   We believe it – or at least we say we do.

But saying we do is like watching bowflex commercials while eating popcorn and drinking low-carb beer. The real thermometer of our belief that God steps into history actively is our prayer life.  I was reminded fo this recently when some people at our church asked pastoral staff to come over to their house and pray through it because they were sensing ‘dark spirits.’  We don’t get these requests often (all right, never until now) but a team went and prayed.  The family said that the effects were both immediate and dramatic.

Dramatic encounters with the forces of darkness are, in my opinion, easier that dealing with the day to day subtleties of life, because there’s so much noise telling us that we live in a purely material world, and because we’ve so many medical, and financial, and therapeutic tools at our disposal that we come to believe, practically speaking, that we can “do it on our own” in spite of what we say we believe.  I mean, with a good marketing guy, a killer web site, and good sound and lights you can build a church.. right?  Sadly… right.

Our prayer life, asking specific things of God, is a good indicator of the degree to which we believe God is at work in the world.  We’re saturated in a materialistic culture that says, both overtly and covertly, that God isn’t active, that things just happen.  We push back, maybe even pointing to the very verses I’ve quoted above.

Big deal.  The real issue is this:  Am I asking God to step into my world, or the world of another, to bring healing, faith, hope, provision, direction?  Do I believe it when Jesus says, “apart from me you can do nothing?”  Does the amount of my praying correlate to the amount of my talking about how great God is, how involved he is in history?

The house demons are gone, and I’m reminded through the event that, behind the veil of our material world, there’s a God able to intervene, and forces of darkness intent on destroying hope and life.  We’ve a calling here folks, to be people of prayer.  I’ve taken to writing my daily prayers in a journal, just like I do with exercise, so that I can look back and see if I’m being consistent.  When there’s a gap of 13 days in the journal, I realize that I talk a good game, but have a long way to go in living what I say I believe.  How about you?

Digesting the “Deadly Misunderstanding”

by , on
Jan 19, 2010

The past decade could have, and perhaps should have been a time for Christians to begin learning about Islam.  But that didn’t happen very much.  Instead we learned about the terror tactics of ‘racial Islam’, and some of us even made the grave error of generalizing radical Islam, imputing those values to all Muslims.  This is very kind of objectification that Jesus warned against when he spoke of people who ‘have eyes but don’t see’, ‘ears but don’t hear.’  It’s time to step away from our stereotypes and get educated.

One of the better tools that might help you towards that end is Mark Siljander’s book, “A Deadly Misunderstanding”. Mark shares the evolution of his own thinking on the Christian/Muslim divide with us, going all the way back to his being offended by a Muslim speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast in DC, to how his senate, and later ambassador responsibilities intersected with his Christian faith to create a crisis of questions:  “How can I learn to show love to Muslims?”  This first question led Mark to approach heads of state from the middle-east and North Africa as one eager to learn about the values and beliefs of Islam.  He began studying languages, including Aramaic (the language Jesus spoke), bought a copy of the Koran and began reading and studying it.

The book is a blend of narrative (Mark’s own expanding web of relationships with Islamic leaders, teachers, and scholars), and theology (Mark’s ever expanding discoveries of common beliefs between Christians and Muslims).  I won’t reveal those points of common interest because I think you should take the time to read the book.  After all, nearly every nation in which our military is involved in conflict has a sizable Muslim presence.  Conventional wisdom, even, would tell us that we should know our enemy.  Jesus would tell us that we should love our enemy.  Mark will tell us that when we begin to study our enemy, we realize that he might not even BE our enemy, that we perhaps share more in common, than we differ.

I was skeptical as I read the book because I found myself thinking, at each point, “Yes, we might share that in common, but what about…?” as I raised the flag of a great divide between Islam and Christianity.  Then Mark would address my concern.  I’d be satisfied for a few pages, and then ask again, and then again.  Each time, Mark has an answer.

Mark isn’t saying there are no differences between our respective faiths.  He is saying that we can find fellowship and even friendship by focusing on the ethics and teachings of Jesus and discussing them with Muslims, that this is a common ground.  This work will challenge your notions of evangelism, and even the use of the word Christian, as Mark hints that Jesus didn’t come to establish a new religion at all, but rather to draw people into relationship with Himself.  I disagree on this last point (Jesus is the head of a body called ‘the church’, and though the church has mucked things up over the centuries countless times, the truth is that when we’re called to Christ, we’re called into a community of faith, because Christ’s life is displayed through community).  In spite of my disagreement on this point, I think Mark has made some remarkable discoveries.

He’s shared his research about common points between the two faiths with scholars of both Christianity and Islam, along with Evangelical leaders, and found an overwhelmingly positive response.   I’m so intrigued with what he’s done that I’m hoping to find a way to have him visit us here in Seattle for a weekend.  We’ll see what happens.

I enjoyed the book for personal reasons as well.  I did a wedding in DC this past summer for some Bethany missionaries, and as Mark began sharing his story, several names of people I’d met at the wedding popped up, including the father of the bride!  This makes me all the more intent on finding a way to further the discussion.

Buy the book, because you’ll want to mark it up.  Don’t swallow everything without thinking, praying, and searching the Bible.  But don’t reject anything simply because it doesn’t fit what you’ve heard before.  The points of common ground with Muslims just might be one of the most important discoveries of the past ten years, and getting the word out, an central mission for next ten.


The Book of Eli – an accident needing to happen

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Jan 17, 2010

My wife and I were planning on see Avatar this afternoon, but when we arrived for the mid-day matinee, it was sold out.  Having come all the way downtown we decided to see “The Book of Eli” instead, mainly because we both enjoy Denzel Washington.  From the opening moments, the movie was phenomenal at every level: great cinematography and acting, and a story line that utterly caught us by surprise, because it is, after all, a movie about the Bible.  Though we were there accidentally, it felt providential for too many reasons to share here.

The viewer is drawn into a post-apocalyptic world populated by savage survivalists.  As the story unfolds, we learn that Eli is carrying the last remaining Bible on the planet with him, trying to transport it ‘west’ because he’d a vision from God directing him to do so.  He’s strong, compassionate, and deeply committed to this ‘calling’.  It becomes clear that the reason there’s only one known Bible is because after ‘the event’, all holy books were intentionally destroyed.

I loved this movie at many levels, but primarily because we encounter our holy text as both the glorious gift, and dangerous weapon that it is, has been, and may yet be in the future.  CS Lewis hinted around once that he thought things with the greatest capacity for good were also the things that had the greatest capacity of evil.  If he’s right, the Bible is surely one of the most powerful elements on the planet.  Because of God’s Word, ethics of compassion, peace, love for enemies, care for the poor, and hospitality have been preserved and handed from generation to generation.

The same book has been used to sanction colonialism, genocide, slavery, and oppression.  Great good; great evil, both reminding us that any of God’s gifts are open to abuse, including the Bible.   The new atheists, of course, can only see this myopically, only seeing the evil and heartache that have been poured into our world with a cup of proof-texting.  They point to these things as revealing the danger of religion.  This movie does that, but also helps us see where history would go if there were guidance, if were all left on our own to follow our basest desires.  We come to see, in Eli, the stark contrast of his life as ‘light’, set in the midst of darkened human hearts.

I won’t give the ending away, but I’ll see that I was reminded, throughout the movie, of the passage from Amos which declares that a day is coming when there will be a famine, not of food and water, but of the hearing of the Word of God.   What a treasure we have!  May we feast upon Christ through the gift of His Word so that, come what may, the word will live, through we who claim to follow.

The movie is rightly rated R for it’s graphic violence, but if you can sit with such violence, the redemptive message of this film is will worth it.  You can get a study guide for group discussion, and movie clips here.

The quake: shaking our assumptions?

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Jan 15, 2010

David Brooks excellent article about this week’s quake in Haiti is a must read.  Whether you agree with his diagnosis or not, he shines a light on a problem that absolutely must be addressed:   There is no formulaic relationship between $$ aid and economic development/autonomy.  Haiti is the ongoing recipient of immense investments.  By some estimates, they have the highest per capita ration of NGO’s (nongovernmental organizations, like World Vision) in the world.  In spite of this, Haiti has remained locked in poverty, and it is this poverty that prevents the kind of infrastructure (building codes, sewage systems, access to water, hospitals, schools) from developing.  What do I mean?

  • The government is not able to provide the resources to educate the nation’s next generation.
  • The unemployment rate is over 80%.
  • More than half of Haitians live on less than a dollar a day.
  • There are few paved roads, an inadequate supply of potable water, minimal utilities, and depleted forests.
  • About 60% of the population lives in abject poverty.
  • Less than 20% of Haitians age 15 and over can read and write.
  • Fewer than 75% of children attend school.
  • 40% of the Haitian population does not have access to primary health care.
  • The United Nations estimates 6% of Haitians are infected with HIV/AIDS. The highest rate in the Western Hemisphere. An estimated 30,000 people die of AIDS every year.
  • One in twenty Haitians is infected with HIV/AIDS and there are over 150,000 AIDS orphans.
  • When things begin to shake, the underlying social and economic pathologies are revealed, and the devastation is exponentially greater than would be the case, were there adequate infrastructure present.

    So why is it that infrastructure doesn’t develop?  And how can we, who are opening our wallets, invest our dollars in the best way to assure that we not only triage the damage, bury the bodies, and provide acute care to those who need it now, but also begin addressing the systemic issues that have kept Haiti stuck for so long?

    Brooks declares that beginning with the assumptions that all cultures and beliefs are morally equal is the height of folly.  Ideas have consequences, and the tragedy of Haiti isn’t just that there’s poverty, it’s that the poverty is interwoven with deeply held beliefs and practices.  Until these beliefs change, the poverty will remain.  Brooks says it this way:

    In this country, we first tried to tackle poverty by throwing money at it, just as we did abroad. Then we tried microcommunity efforts, just as we did abroad. But the programs that really work involve intrusive paternalism….It’s time to find self-confident local leaders who will create No Excuses countercultures in places like Haiti, surrounding people — maybe just in a neighborhood or a school — with middle-class assumptions, an achievement ethos and tough, measurable demands.

    When WWII ended, the German government sent hundreds of young people who’d been raised in the ethos of the Hitler Youth movement, to Capernwray in England for moral re-education.  International Needs is taking a similar strategy in Romania.  This, it seems, is the path in Haiti offering the greatest light.  But such a strategy swims against the popular current that eschews any challenge to another culture’s world view.

    We’ll take an offering at our church on January 24th for Haiti as part of the important effort to contribute to the acute crisis of the moment.  But it’s vital that all of us with means think long and hard, not about whether to invest, but about how to invest, so that our investment leads to changed lives and changed cultures, not just handouts.

    A case for marriage…

    by , on
    Jan 12, 2010

    I’d like to spend a few words building the case for marriage, because this institution, like all institutions (it seems) is increasingly regarded with both suspicion and cynicism by younger generations.   For this reason an increasing number (of both Christ followers and the general populace) are forsaking marriage, choosing instead to simply live together.

    I understand the cynicism, but disagree with conclusion.  The cynicism makes sense because people are looking for something more substantive than some sort of ‘legally binding’ arrangement.  If that’s all a couple has, and they stay together for propriety, or reputation, perhaps even ‘for the children’, then they enflame the notion that marriage is meaningless.  After all, when a couple stands before God and their friends to make a vow, they don’t promise to live together; they promise to love each other through all the seasons life – and let me tell you, the latter is much harder than the former.

    My wife and I have been married thirty years, and I don’t think I’m speaking presumptuously in declaring that we love each other deeply.  We’ve built a storehouse of adventures, laughter, child-raising, and braving challenges together.  Each of these marvelous moments seems to add a brick to the solidarity of our marriage, and each brick makes the notion of walking away from our commitment to love, all the more difficult.

    God knows, though, there are moments when we’ve both wanted to walk away.  Between us, we know all the tricks – stony silence, careless disregard, hurtful words, manipulation, a fear of truth or confrontation that leads to perhaps the worst thing of all: the pleasantness of relational death.   We’ve never strayed very long into any of these arenas, falling in unwittingly, and then crawling out – but we’ve been there, and when one or the other of us is there, the grass suddenly looks greener elsewhere.  After all, we’re both competent and capable individuals, right?

    I’ve a feeling we’re not alone in this.  But, in spite of the fact that our eyes have looked longingly at freedom once in a blue moon (ok, maybe twice), staying in the arena of working on the promises we made has always been the obvious choice.   And because of this, the bricks have continued to accumulate, until we’ve now, not a wall with a marriage contract tacked on to it; but a home of love and gratitude.

    There are many reasons we chose to stick with the vows, but one of them is pretty simple:  We made a vow – and we made it before God, our friends, and our family.  It carried a weight for us (as I both believe and teach that it should for anyone who makes it), and this weight has always been lurking in the background.  But recall, as we have, that our vow wasn’t a commitment to stay together – it was a commitment to love each other.    Choosing to simply stay together, without comitting to the hard work of learning to love does two things:  1) It displays our obsession with appearances and our desire to please people, both of which lead to the charges of hypocrisy in the Christian community.    2) It helps create the disillusionment that leads young adults to avoid marriage completely, opting instead for ‘authenticity’.  That marriage and authenticity are thus juxtaposed reveals how wrong headed we’ve become.

    The value is found in declaring a commitment to love one another.  Sometimes love might call for consequences, such as temporary separation or intervention.  But always, love is working for the good of the other, and the union, rather than retreating into a cage of selfishness in order to preserve one’s own fragile and wounded ego. But beneath it all, there’s a commitment to love that was public, personal, and had the effect of creating a sense of accountability

    Ironically it’s that sense of accountability that is largely missing in the generation that’s must hungry for authentic intimacy.   Intimacy without accountability is a mirage, and boatloads of heartache and woundedness are waiting for those who try to create it.  Better to keep the accountability ingredient in the mix; and how is that done?

    Simple:  marriage.

    I welcome your thoughts.