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

Bend it Like Beck – Glenn gets the conversation going…

by , on
Mar 17, 2010

Glenn Beck, the celebrated conservative commentator had some things to say over the past week or so about “social justice” and “economic justice”.  It’s easier to find commentaries on what he said, than it is to find what he actually said, but here’s part of the exact words he spoke:

“I beg you, look for the words “social justice” or “economic justice” on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes! If I’m going to Jeremiah’s Wright’s church? Yes! Leave your church. Social justice and economic justice. They are code words. If you have a priest that is pushing social justice, go find another parish”

Later we learn from Beck that these are code words for totalitarianism and communism, and that Christ only called people to change their own individual lives and responses, not to empower the government to intrude into the life of the free markets.  “Jesus spoke only for individual compassion, not for governmental justice” according to Beck.

He’s not alone in his critiques.  Another commentator has critiqued that bastion of liberalism, “Wheaton College” (sarcasm intended) for promoting “anti-American” and “pro-Marxist” theories under the guise of social justice”.  The response of the Wheaton provost cuts to the heart of this problem.  He said,

We equip our students to think carefully and biblically about issues of justice, and encourage them to commit to act justly throughout their lives as defined by a biblical worldview … There is an enormous difference between recognizing the tragic state of so many rural school systems and inner-city school systems that serve disproportionately minority constituencies as a justice issue of concern to God, on the one hand, and a radical, naturalistically-driven call for Marxist redistribution of wealth on the other

But this, it seems, is a distinction Beck and millions of his followers who know Jesus seem unable to make.  Beck’s vision is that the free markets will take care of everything, and that anyone who doesn’t believe that favors totalitarianism, Naziism, and dictatorships.  It is difficult to know how to respond, but I will try.

I’ll begin by offending my friends on the left.  I’m not convinced that the Bible has a much to say about the Christian call to motivate governments to act in certain ways to further justice.  You don’t find Jesus talking about mobilizing people, getting out the vote, pushing to make cross executions illegal, or petitioning for fairer taxation.

On the other hand, Jesus and Paul didn’t live in a democratic society whose vision was government of the people, by the people, and for the people.  In other words, the option of affecting government policy wasn’t real in Paul and Jesus’ day. We’re not in such times anymore, having been granted the incredible privilege of helping shape our policies by electing people.

In fact, Beck and many of his followers would be quick to remind us that our country is founded on the theistic values of individual freedom and dignity.  One challenge, of course, comes from the realization that nobody is advocating for ultimate freedom.  Conservatives want unrestricted markets in business but want to regulate morality, from life in the womb to how a family is defined.  Liberals want to define the limits of corporate powers, but be left alone in the bedroom.

The debate about the size of government and it’s level of involvement in our lives good and important.  This segues into the subject of “social justice”.  If we claim to be a country founded on God’s principles, perhaps we’d better recognize that God’s reign was far, far, from the libertarianism espoused these days.  Provisions were made for the poor, the widow, and the immigrant, when God was king back in the day.  Taxation paid for caring for the poor, and God was more than a little involved in making sure that wealth was redistributed about every 50 years (you’ve heard of the year of Jubilee?) so that the rich had limited powers to oppress the poor.

If you tell me that our nation is founded on principles handed down by God, I’ll tell you that God had a lot to say about public health, sanitation, care for the poor, and economics.  He also had a lot to say about protecting the least of these, including the little ones not yet born.  He apparently didn’t stop caring about these things when Israel asked for a king, because in the prophets, the calls for justice are everywhere, including here and here.

This post isn’t about whether Democrats or Republicans are getting it right.  Instead, I’m offering the observation that how people apply their faith to their politics is nuanced, and a challenging issue, determined by a blend of Jesus passive relationship with Rome and the ethics of God’s theocracy.  Can we please be patient with each other and drop the communist, and Nazi labels, recognizing that this territory isn’t as clearly defined as our friends on either the left or the right would have us believe.

Start here…

by , on
Mar 15, 2010

This past Sunday, our church’s text in Romans 8 reminded me that those of us who are in Christ are, “not in the flesh, but in the spirit.”  As I shared, this is the foundation for establishing a trajectory towards maturity.  Little by little, as we learn to live into this new identity, we’ll be enabled to overcome issues, discover our unique gifts and callings, and gain an increasing capacity to be a blessing to others.

All of this, though, is predicated on us becoming increasingly secure in our identity, “in Christ.”  You can’t live “newness” wearing the clothes of yesterday, and the reality is that it’s easy to wear the old instead of the new.  Moving into the new identity requires some things of us:

1. A Renewal of the Mind – We’re told in Romans 12 that our transformation will come through the renewing of our mind, not from walking labyrinths, emptying our minds, or staring at candles.  Neither will our renewal come from escaping the harsh realities of this fallen world with alcohol, sex, drugs, etc. etc. Renewal is old school:  Receive Revelation by listening to God’s Word tell you who you are.

2. Time – I can’t listen to what God says about me if I never open my Bible, because I only learn the specifics of this new identity through the scriptures, not the general revelation of nature.

3. Faith – I need to say “thank’s for that” when I read about who God says I am, rather than protesting because my experiencers or emotions tell me otherwise.

4. Confession – If the fellowship that allows me to move into this newness is to remain, I need to be quick to confess my sins, and slow to justify them.

If this identity stuff is new to you, I’d suggest you click on this link, and print out the material you find there so that you can read it regularly and thank God for who he’s made you to be.  Standing firm in our new identity has been helpful to many people dealing with all kinds of problems.

Don’t be too quick to dismiss this.  The path to transformation is, as Eugene Peterson reminds us, not flashy.  Rather, it’s a ‘long obedience in the same direction’, which means showing up, listening to God remind me that you’ve a new identity, and thanking him for it in advance so that you can live into it.

Enjoy the ride.

Male Call –

by , on
Mar 10, 2010

David Brooks wrote a NY Times column last month in which he posited that the current economic crisis has been much harder on men then women, pointing out that nearly a fifth of all men between the ages of 24 and 54 were unemployed as of this past November.  He notes that for every 100 men graduating from college, there are 185 women doing so, and ponders the loss of masculine identity.

I applaud Brooks for bringing a subject to light that few people want to address:  the crisis of the American male. It’s seen not only in graduation and unemployment rates, but also in post-grad programs and addictive behaviors.  Even anecdotally, I hear of mission trips cancelled due to lack of male participation.   At every turn, the trend lines aren’t encouraging.  What are the reasons for this seeming social and emotional paralysis among men?

Speculations range from easy access to pornography, to the empowering of women in the marketplace.  Like so many issues, the problem is a large fabric with countless interwoven threads.  I can’t and won’t attempt to unravel these threads and look at each one.  I’ll only offer two thoughts, from the scriptures.

1. When Paul talks about men and women submitting to one other in Ephesians 5, he unpacks specific ways in which this submission is to be lived out, with unique callings for each gender.  Men submit to their wives by loving, sacrificial, servant leadership, laying down their lives for the well being of their spouse.  Women submit by opening themselves to this relationship as receptive partners.  In this way, marriages that are rooted in Christ will display the relationship between Christ and the church through the relationship of husband and wife.  I didn’t make this up, Paul did.  The fact that this calling is rooted in Genesis, even before the fall, makes it relevant and applicable today.

That we’ve neglected to address this adequately may well be one of the reasons there’s a crisis today.

Even as I write this, I can hear the politically correct anger, but I’m convinced that those who call for abolishing these exhortations can only do so by ignoring the text, or resorting to some sort of tortured hermenuetic that so deconstructs Paul’s intent that we’ve nothing left to learn, either here or elsewhere.  Such deconstruction is often a reaction to the abuse and misapplication of Paul’s words, rather than Paul’s words themselves.  Don’t throw the text  baby out with the dirty bathwater of abusive patriarchy.

I don’t presume to fully understand what Paul means by declaring that men are to love their wives as Christ loves the church, but I know this much:  He’s not talking about domination, cruelty, neglect, abusive hierarchy, or anything remotely close to those concepts.  Embodying this can only look beautiful and life giving when lived out properly.

We need to teach men that initiation, sacrifice, service, and actively blessing their wives is a vital part of their world.

2. None of the injunctions about headship, however, apply to the relationships of men and women in the rest of culture, including the church, because in the church, ALL of us are the bride of Christ, submitted to our head, who is Jesus.  Paul’s injunctions about silent women were clearly not universal and absolute, as he tells women to ‘cover their heads’ when they prophesy.  Junias, a name that is always feminine, is called an apostle in Romans 16, a role that was obviously authoritative in the church.   The case of I Timothy 2:12-14 has strong leanings towards being about marriage, both linguistically and contextually.

Just as its frustrating to see the left disengaged from Paul’s words to husbands in Ephesians 5, it’s frustrating to see the right blaming egalitarian church’s for the male crisis.  That’s like blaming promiscuity on the fact that we’re created as sexual beings.  Don’t blame sex, a good thing, for bad outcomes.  Likewise, when it comes to the crisis of the male, don’t blame the empowerment of woman.

It’s an interesting issue to be sure, and I’ve more thoughts, but no more time.  I welcome your thoughts if they’re respectful for a dialogue… and will respond as I’m able.

A tension…

by , on
Mar 7, 2010

Winding down my time in Fresno, I’m sitting, waiting for my flight.  Fresno, increasingly represents this schizophrenic division that I see in me and all of us, every time I’m here.  The place, of course, reminds me of my youth, and the marvelous times I had, especially in high school.  Life was full and good, with a solid self esteem that came from my involvement in the music world, and a few good friends with whom I’d play tennis, eat pizza, and just generally have fun.  There were ice-hockey games, where I played in a little jazz band (we didn’t get paid, but got free entrance for ourselves and a date, and the owner took us all out for pizza about every other game), and the Fresno Philharmonic.  There were trips to the mountains and the coast for parades and Giants baseball.  This was my whole world, my home, and I was pretty thick into all of it.

It’s not just these reminders though, that I encounter in Fresno.  My mom’s 90 and the trip from her room to the car takes about 20 minutes (better than you’ll do probably, or me, if we even last that long!).  My uncle, the guy who turned me on to the joys of studying and teaching the Bible, is 91, or 92; I’ve lost count.  Even my own cousins, my peers are talking about retirement.  One of my best friends from high school is finishing his career and ready to start something new for the 2nd half.  All these people feel, increasingly, disconnected from the present, more like sojourners than citizens.

Which is right, as it applies to our calling in Christ?  Are we to be deeply involved in the structures and systems of this world, or putting our hope fully in a future that will only be consummated by the return and reign of Christ?  Yes, of course – it’s both/and.  Living this way though, fully present and invested without placing our hopes in this world and life, is challenging.  It’s easy to disengage from things here and place our hope fully in Christ and his return.  It’s easy to jump in with both foot and seek to be a blessing here, hoping that by being the presence of Christ we’ll make a difference in the power structures, families, schools, neighborhoods, businesses, bands, and sports teams where we live our lives.  But it’s tough to do both, at least for me.

The band “Iona” has a marvelous song who’s refrain talks about the colors of the dawn, and the light streaming through the trees, and the staggering love of ‘these lives we live.’  Most days I agree with that assessment.  Whether it’s the sunrise over the Sierra’s yesterday morning at my motel in Fresno, the taste of a good meal, laughter with friends, or a moment of intimacy with family, I’m pierced by the richness and beauty of this life.  The song goes on though and says, over and over again, “We really cannot stay – We really cannot stay – We really cannot stay”   In the midst of this, I know and believe that we’re called to serve, bless, and be the presence of hope.  But none of it will last; not our calling, or our health, or even this world.  “We really cannot stay”

It’s true of course.  A child dies early.  There’s an earthquake.  A bomb in Iraq shatters my naive illusions that the world is a good place.  These shattering realities, whether they’re global or personal, create in us a longing for home, a sort of “Maranatha” moment when our heart aches for the fulness that will only come when Jesus is running the whole show.

Do we need to flip flop back and forth between this sense of rootedness and feeling like aliens, or is there a way to live out the reality of both mindsets simultaneously?  The reality is that both are true… glory and suffering, home and passing through, life and dying — all the time.

Off to the plane… and I welcome your thoughts.



The Paralysis of Polarity

by , on
Mar 2, 2010

After spending a glorious Sunday afternoon watching the best Ice Hockey game ever (and I’ve seen many), I posted a tongue and cheek comment on my facebook page, indicating that Canada had both the gold medal and health care.  The comments that ensued were a reminder that Christians are as deeply divided and entrenched on this issue as everyone else.  We’re red Christians and blue Christians – big government Christians, and small government Christians, and we’re good at pushing each other’s buttons.  I’m pretty certain though, when the comments were done being posted, nobody had changed their minds, or changed anyone else’s mind either.  Perhaps the only thing that happened was a little bit of grace and charity was lost.  All this leaves me wondering if there’s value in the dialogues between blue and red Christians.  I think there can be, but only to the extent we hold these truths to be self-evident:

1. No party or system has all the answers.  I’m well beyond suspicious that our systems won’t save us:  I know our systems won’t save us, because Salvation, in the fullest sense of the word, is found only in Christ.  He alone will restore justice, and the environment, and heal bodies, and bring peace, at least if the words of Isaiah are true, as Jesus himself indicated they were.  Because of this, our conversations about political matters need to be kept in perspective, and when Jim Wallace or Glenn Beck tell me that their party is God’s party, it makes me want to stop listening to them.

2. We have a 2nd, and truer, passport: I don’t lose sleep over who’s in power, or whether my political convictions are being adequately represented, because when the day is done, my calling isn’t to change American government; it’s to embody the reign of Christ in my life, my home, and my faith community, offering an alternative to the ways of this world.  And I’m called to do this no matter who’s in power.

Throughout history, that posture has taken countless different forms; Jews sheltered in WWII by Christians, those dying of the plague taken in by Christians in the 2nd century both come to mind.  Today, Jesus is on the front lines in Haiti through World Vision, and He’s healing the uninsured through clinics in many major cities in America.  I have my convictions on health care, and health, and food, and energy, but my calling is ultimately to live those convictions out in how I use my time and money.

3. We should vote our convictions.  William Wilberforce wanted to expand the influence of government by ending slavery in England.  MLK Jr wanted to expand the influence of government by granting equal rights to African Americans.  Evangelicals have long wanted to expand the influence of government by defining marriage and protecting life in the womb.  And, at various times, we’ve wanted to shrink the role of government too, either to balance the budget or for other reasons.  So we vote.  Yet our 2nd passport is the one that counts, and we’re ultimately called to live out our convictions regardless of who’s in power and where things are headed.  I hope this as liberating for you as it is for me.  If not, perhaps Psalm 62:5-8 will be helpful here.  I read it this morning and could feel the peace of Christ wash over me.

4. We need to give each other grace.  There are things that seem pretty obvious to me as a result of my faith in Christ:  life in the womb is sacred; both families and governments shouldn’t spend more than they have; and war should, at the very least, be seen as a last resort, along the lines of ‘just war theory’.  Beyond this though, there are big questions about the role of government in regulating business, and the definition of ‘basics’ that constitute government responsibility.  This is where we who share the same faith will divide, and why I am independent.

As one who has travelled the world and been in places lacking a public health department to regulate rural areas, I’ve seen people eating undercooked food on plates washed out back in cold and dirty tap water.  I’ve had friends eat off such plates and get violently ill.  This makes me think that it’s a good thing for the government to get involved in regulating the quality of food service in a country.  I’ve also seen Europeans, in a highly regulated and taxed culture, follow their hearts and become aerobics instructors, farmers, baristas without worrying about what will happen to their family if one of them gets sick, and this makes me think their system has some merit.  These people love Jesus just like we do, pray and serve in the communities, and favor a larger government.   I also have friends, both in my church and across the country who strongly disagree with that vision, feeling that it puts too much power in the hands of the government and, at the very least, runs the risk of eroding one’s sense of personal responsibility.  They also pray, love Jesus, and read their Bibles.

Who is more spiritual?   I don’t think we should even ask the question, let alone hazard an answer.

I hope we who disagree on such matters can give each other grace because, when the day is done, we love the same Jesus, hold the same passport, and place our hope in the same King.

WWJE? Eschatology and Food

by , on
Feb 25, 2010

If you’re one of those “it’s all going to burn up anyway” Christians,  there’s a good chance you’ll be eating a big slab of meat tonight, cooked over a fire, complemented by a pesticide laced salad, enhanced by an Italian Red,  and washed down with coffee that was utterly affordable thanks to the rainforest that was cleared to increase the crop size.  If I thought it was all going to burn up, especially in the near term (as I’ve been told it will, any day now, for the past 35 years), I’d join you.

Instead, I’ll be having a slab of meat, a salad, red wine, and coffee, just like you, except utterly different.  My meat will be grass fed, my salad organic and local, my wine from a local winery, and my coffee shade grown.  That is, at least, what I’ll be eating when my food choices match my view of the end times.  Believing that God’s people are called to make God’s good reign visible here and now in some small measure means that I need to make choices that exalt health, justice, and ecology (among other things) in all areas of my life, including “what’s for dinner?”

Concerned about the state of environment and the horrible carbon footprint of the beef industry, I’d always believed that vegetarians were on to something, but could never manage to get there myself because when I tried, I’d be continually hungry and sick (not to mention that truth that I enjoy only about 1/2 the vegetables available).  A recent read called “The Vegetarian Myth”  (see intro here), written by a left wing activist former vegetarian, opened my eyes to the realities that the real culprit isn’t meat or not meat; it’s industrial agriculture.  Monocrops require heavy pesticides (oil), deplete the topsoil, which then requires heavy fertilization (oil), so that the crops can be maximized and then harvested by machine (oil), to then be shipped to warehousing locations (oil), where they’ll either become something else (twinkies, made from oil), and/or shipped yet again to stores (more oil).  The problem is that this is our world, whether we’re vegetarians are meat eaters, if we just run down to the supermarket and buy the cheapest beef and spinach on the market.

The food that comes out of this system is destructive to the human body, the earth, and industrial pork and cattle that inhabit it.  Why are we doing this?  Maximum profit of course, and cheap products.  Do we really think, even if Jesus were returning tomorrow, that He doesn’t care about us trashing his planet, compromising our bodies, and torturing his animals like this?

On the other hand, if I buy, organic vegetables, and grass fed animal products, and as local as possible, several things happen:

1. I participate in a sustainable model that actually builds topsoil, rather than destroying it.

2. I dramatically lower my carbon footprint, by consuming things that required relatively small amounts of energy to produce.

3. I ennoble small farming and local economies, both of which are far healthier and more resilient than ADM, supermarket to the world.

4. I declare by my choices that monocrops and the forced migration of small farmers to the urban centers, a destructive global trend, is wrong.

5. I gain a healthy ratio of Omega 3- Omega 6 fats in my diet, and enjoy lower good heart health, and the taste of real, rather than industrial food.  I’m sick less, sleep better, and just generally feel more alive.

I’m as guilty as anyone regarding my food choices, even more so because I now know better and still choose cost and convenience way too often.  This conversation, if we take it seriously, is a portal to many other topics.  Since we who can afford to eat this way don’t, how can we ever expect those with neither the means nor understanding to freely choose these healthy alternatives?  Is it enough to live ‘alternatively’, or is activism appropriate?  And if activism is appropriate (as I sometimes sense is the case), why do I feel like I’m wasting my time?  Wouldn’t it be better to just grab a Big Mac and get on with handing out Bibles?

I welcome your thoughts!

Rule of Life: Sustaining your faith for the distance

by , on
Feb 21, 2010

There’s a new category tag on this blog and it’s called “Rule of Life”.  Each posting I offer that will help equip people for developing the disciplines to sustain and enliven their faith will be tagged “rule of life”.  For those interested the the “why” of rule of life, I’ll suggest listening to the teaching from my church on February 21st, 2010.

I’ll open this category with two things:

1. Resource – for a quick overview of what a rule of life is, and it’s significance, I’ll refer you to this link.  Bethany’s rule of life booklet will soon available on this website as well.  Check back.

2. If you have questions or comments about ‘rule of life’ as you begin this journey, please post them on this entry, and I’ll work to respond to them, both here online, and in the equipping we offer for spiritual disciplines and discipleship at Bethany Community Church.

At a time approaching spiritual burnout, I discovered the ‘rule of life’ concept over a decade ago, and have found the practices contained therein to be life giving, rather than a choking constraint.  I hope you’ll join us in this journey, not by talking about rule of life or studying it – but  by actually developing your own rule of life.  This morning, as I sat under the redwood tree in silence, and then prayed, I was grateful for these practices that bring integration and wholeness to my life.  Let the adventure begin.

breaking the stress barrier…

by , on
Feb 19, 2010

This past Sunday I preached on ‘glorying in our tribulations’.  Starting on Monday, it’s been lab work on the same subject.  The convergence zone of too many obligations, with some fresh new challenges tossed in, and obligations ‘out’ every night, conspired with some weighty and important decisions that need to be made.  Toss in a shortage of sleep (from too much too do, too much thinking, and not enough exercise), and the whole mixture becomes a sort of toxic ‘stress soup’.  Do you know of it?  Have you tasted it?

I’ve good news.  Sometimes it’s the very toxicity that motivates us to seek the remedy, which is Christ’s strength, peace, truth, and wisdom.  Yes, I know we say we’re dependent on Christ all the time, but the truth of it is that many of us have plenty of ‘self-sufficiency’ because it’s built into our genetic make-up to live on our own, without help.  As a result we fall into the trap of believing that with enough self-discipline, sleep, vitamins, schedule management, and leadership techniques, we can cope with life well.  Maybe we can, maybe not, but we’ll never be fruitful because Jesus said ‘apart from me you can do nothing.’

Thank God for those weeks when there’s an avalanche of stress, so much so that all the technique and management skills in the world won’t enable us to live well.  Thank God for the weeks when we feel ourselves sinking under the massive weight of responsibility, decisions, challenges, and obligations.  Thank God.  Those are the weeks when we’re brought to our knees, which is where we should have been all along, except we were too busy living with our illusions of competence and control.

“The Control Barrier” is what I call it, and the only way to break through it, like the sound barrier, is to be overwhelmed.  When I am existentially overwhelmed, I stop, breath, pray, turn to silence and the ancient paths of the saints, finding once again the peace in the midst of the storm, a peace which really is beyond understanding because nothings changed except my awareness that ‘all manner of things shall be well’.  And that’s enough.

Have you been silent lately?  Heard the birds?  Prayed for the peace of Christ to fill you?  If not, maybe it’s because life’s not hard enough yet.  Don’t worry… your day will come.  When it does, ‘rejoice’!  Peace is just around the corner for all who turn to Him.

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?