should not be ashamed to acknowledge truth and to assimilate it from whatever
source it comes to us, even if it is brought to us by former generations and
foreign peoples. For him who seeks the truth there is nothing of higher value
than truth itself; it never cheapens or debases him who reaches for it but
ennobles and honors him" ~ Yaqub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi (d. ca. 870)
A friend and I used to work out at Bally’s gym on a regular
basis. There were two rather masculine looking ladies who were always there at
the same time working out. My friend and I assumed they were Lesbian partners.
One day only one of them came to the gym and I politely asked, ‘where is your
partner?” She replied “my mom is not feeling very well today.” Oops.
A few years ago, I started through a study of the “commands of
Christ” with my son (at his suggestion). It was a life changing experience for
me. As I read through the gospels, looking closely at Jesus’ actions and words,
looking for imperatives, I realized that I had a lot of unwarranted assumptions
that came from current church life or from Paul but were not founded in the
actual teachings of Jesus. One particular imperative of Christ, expressed in
the negative, caught my attention. Matt. 7:1 Jesus explicitly tells us in the imperative to not judge others. There are many things that we think
Christians should do that Jesus never mentioned; but one thing that he clearly
forbade us to do, many if not most Christians engage in fully, frequently and fervently.
We constantly make judgments of one another and we most especially judge the ‘outsiders’; those who are not part of
the Christian community.
In the anecdote above, I had made quick judgments
about these two ladies based on their outward appearance (not that it was any
of my business anyway!). As scripture says, Man judges by the outward
appearance but God looks at the heart. And very often, the heart of a person is
quite different from our easy judgments based on their external appearance.
This becomes a huge obstacle for the church’s incarnational witness to the world. We
often judge others and make assumptions about the spiritual condition of their
hearts based on outward appearance or behavior. Theoretically, the church
teaches that the grace of God is for anyone and everyone regardless of their outward
behavior, but our actions and attitudes are not consistent. Jesus said that the
one who is “forgiven much, also loves
much.” When we judge others to be worse sinners than ourselves, we often
miss the hidden qualities of humility, contrition and faith, working deep in their
hearts, or as Henri Nouwen would say, the “twilight
zones” of the heart. And we also overlook the subtle attitudes or pride,
self-righteousness and entitlement in the twilight zones of our own hearts. If
we are not careful, we wind up in the position of the “righteous” Pharisee whothanked God he was not like the desperate sinner who was praying next to him
and went home unjustified. Two men went up to pray, an Evangelical Christian
husband who was homeschooling his children, and the desperate porn addict who was crying out for mercy. Which
one went home justified?
A friend of mine believes that just like the
first Reformation revolved around the concept of Sola Scritura (only faith through the authority of scripture), the
pending twenty-first century Reformation must revolve around Sola Agape, (only faith working through
love). In order for the church to fully grasp the revelation that God is Agape,
we MUST let go of our judgments.
Part of the confusion about when it is
appropriate to judge, and when it is not, comes from the fact that there are at
least three different Greek words that can be translated as “judgment” in the
Do not κρίνω
The first is Krino, this is the word that Jesus used to command us NOT to judge
(Krino). Picture a judge in black robes with a gavel who is about to pronounce
guilt and execute a sentence of punishment. THAT is the judgment that we are
NOT to do. It is not our right to pronounce guilt or to decide upon punishment
for alleged sinners. That is ONLY God’s right (see the story of the womancaught in adultery!).
Analysis and discernment
The other two words are anakrino (analysis) and diakrino
(discernment). Picture a doctor in a white medical coat with a stethoscope,
attempting discern the cause of an illness I order to offer a lifesaving diagnosis.
This is the only spirit with which we are allowed to exercise judgment, in the
same spirit as the Great Physician seeking to save that which is lost, seeking to heal those who need a physician.
We are to judge ourselves before the table ofthe Lord (αναμνησιν). Prophets are to submit their prophesies for the
judgment of other prophets (διακρινετωσαν). The only time we are told to judge with Krino is in the the future kingdom, we will one day judge angels. Paul
specifically forbids us to judge outsiders, and says that we are
only to exercise judgment within the spiritual community, among those who call
themselves “brothers.” He also encourages
us not to disassociate ourselves with those who are outside the community
of faith. We normally do the opposite, we specifically disassociate with
outsiders who we think are obvious sinners, and spend our time with fellow Christians
with very little personal or truthful accountability for the secrets places of
So to sum up, Jesus tells us never to judge (Krino) under any circumstance. Paul, however, offers some nuanced qualifications about exercising compassionate and redemptive analysis and discernment under specific conditions. We have completely ignored the imperative of Jesus and we have stretched and strained Paul's careful guidelines.
Would you be willing to say a prayer with me?
“Dear God, I repent for judging those around
me instead of incarnating your agape love for them. Please forgive me and
reveal to me the many ways that I judge others falsely, and help me to learn to
release my judgments and to choose to love and bring healing instead. Amen.”
Let’s stop judging and start loving! This is
the way we can change the world.
By-the-way, I am continuing to post selections from
Debbie’s journal online at http://gracerhythmsunforced.blogspot.com/
-- I feel like I am getting to know her in new ways, and her voice is still
speaking to me.
Today I want to address a major barrier to effective
Christian witness in the current social climate. This one may get me in trouble
with some people. Please bear with me.
When faith morphs into a political ideology, we inherently alienate from
the faith those who do not share our political convictions and thus turn them
into “enemies.” Let me explain.
Jesus had the ability to relate to both extremes of
the political ideologies of his day. Simon the Zealot, and Matthew the Roman
collaborator were both apparently able to bury their very real and very intense
political differences to follow Jesus. Jesus was not particularly interested in
which political party came out on top within the Sanhedrin or which Caesar rose
to power in Rome, His kingdom was not of
this world although it IS within us
and AMONG us.
don’t misunderstand me. I am NOT saying that a Christian cannot take a reasoned
political position with core political principles, either conservative or
liberal. What I AM saying is that we must not confuse our political philosophy
with our faith. We are not citizens of
this world … even though we must live, vote and practice citizenship in this
world. We are NOT primarily called to
make converts to our political philosophy or party of choice; we are called to
make disciples of Jesus.
There is abundant evidence
that the aggressive politicization of Evangelical faith and its transformation
into an ideology has greatly hurt the cause of Christian witness. In a 2007 book, unChristian: What a New
Generation Really Thinks about Christianity...and Why It Matters
David Kinnaman uses research data supplied by Barna to show that a huge number
of young adults are leaving churches because of their disgust with the culture
wars and overtly political attitudes in the pulpit.
also just finished reading Dave Fitch’s
insightful book The End of Evangelicalism?(2011). In it Fitch shows how Evangelicalism developed a political ideology as a
response to a historical trauma rooted in the conflict between fundamentalists
and liberal modernists in the early part of the 20th century.
The problem with an ideology is that it focuses people’s faith on abstract symbols and
concepts that serve as “master-signifiers” (for a definition, see Slavoj Žižek) rather than on the person of Christ. Another problem with ideology is that it
requires an enemy ... an outsider who is viewed as a threat or a
problem. This creates a huge problem for witness. We cannot incarnate a witness for adversaries! The ministry of reconciliation requires that
we love our enemies and pray for those who spitefully use us. Such a stance of
love is possible with faith, but impossible if one is fighting to win a
political-ideological struggle with enemies.
How can religious ideology be
distinguished from religious faith? Ideology contains certainties; faith
contains mysteries. Ideology promotes militancy; faith promotes humility.
Ideology must be implemented with energetic human force; faith rests in the
providence of God. Ideology produces antagonism between opposing parties; faith
produces love for one’s enemy that bridges ideological divisions.
A sure sign that faith has morphed into political
ideology is when one finds Christians trashing or mocking political figures (or
their families) on a personal basis, or based on their appearance with a thread
of sarcasm. There is nothing wrong with reasoned discourse and disagreement
over principle. In fact, democracy requires it. However when civil discourse
degenerates into demonization of the opposition, you can bet that reasoned
discourse has given way ideological struggle.
I don’t know if I am effectively communicating how
huge a barrier this is to effective Christian witness or how urgent it is that
we address it honestly. I hope you will consider what I am saying. If you
disagree, it’s ok, but please get the two books and read them. Unless
Evangelical Christianity can let go of its aggressive political ideology and
stop trying to rise to a position of social and cultural dominance, and accept
its role as a “suffering servant” to incarnate the love of Christ to a sinful
society, we will never disciple our nation. And what a tragedy that would be.
I asked a young friend of mine, Steve Tamayo, the South Florida
director for Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, to read this newsletter and give
me feedback before I sent it. He gave me permission to include his own story.
As far as the idea goes, I totally agree with you. Millennial
young people struggle to have the patience to form political alliances. We tend
to link up with different sides on different issues and to get frustrated with
the whole political power game.
A few years ago, Amy and I were leading a Small Group of
20somethings at a church in Virginia. A guest speaker came in and gave a talk
about how the constitution was inspired by God and public schools were demonic
and we had to be on guard against the gay agenda or we will end up cursed like
Haiti. He ranted and sweated. One by one, our whole Small Group trickled out of
the service. Every single one of those young people left the church. Not just
that church. But church all together. Some, like Amy and me, went back. Some
are following Jesus without the church. Some walked away all together.
This is important stuff you're talking about here.
By-the-way, I am continuing to post selections from
Debbie’s journal online at http://gracerhythmsunforced.blogspot.com/
-- I feel like I am getting to know her in new ways, and her voice is still
speaking to me.
Also, my friend Steve
Tamayo who shared the story above, writes about issue related to mission to millennial
at his blog http://yosteve.blogspot.com.
Today was a long day. Debbie had an appointment for a blood transfusion at 10 am. I went to the university to teach my classes, and then over the hospital at around 1 pm. She was still waiting for the six hour procedure to begin at 3 pm. I lost my cell phone, found it, knocked off my side view mirror by colliding with a mail box.
While I was sitting in the hospital with Debbie, I remembered trying to write the last 10 pages of my masters thesis in 2005 while Debbie was getting surgery to install her port. My entire academic process has overlapped with her battle with cancer. I left the hospital to run over to FIU for a quick dance lesson with Jennifer. The salsa classes really reduce my blood pressure and keep me from getting depressed. Joy is an elusive quality but very real.
Thank you Lord for giving grace for this day. Now I ask you to grant me rest, and refreshment and recovery for Debbie and a new day full of new grace tomorrow. Amen
My son was born in 1986. During his early years, I was a ministry work-a-holic and I did not spend as much time with him as I should have. When I did spend time with him, I was often tense and irritable and had my mind on really super important “ministry and pastoral” issues (please notice the subtle hint of irony). Sometime around his 13th birthday, I realized that I was way behind the eight ball with him and started trying to make up for lost time.
I started taking him on camping trips going kayaking with him as often as possible. One year, we went camping in the Everglades National Park near Flamingo, as far as one can go south on the Florida mainland in the Everglades. We sat up our tent near the water. The next morning I woke up early and fixed my coffee on a camp stove. He was still sleeping by 8 am after I finished my coffee and so I decided to go for a prayer walk. It was my habit to spend some time reflecting each year between Christmas and New Year’s while considering my goals for the coming year. I had brought with me a journal to write in and several ministry oriented books to read.
I took off walking on a heavily overgrown path that wound West along Florida Bay. Although it was the fourth week of December, it was rather warm and the mosquitos were out in force. I soon found my self slapping mosquitos with both hands while walking briskly and trying to pray. I eventually blurted out “God, what do you want me to work on this year?” I blurted it out almost angrily, frustrated with the dive bombing insects. You have to understand, my prayers often sound like a quarrel with God. I try to justify it as “manly” prayer … kind of like king David exhorting God to wake up and punch out the wicked.
When I asked “What do you want me to work on?” I clearly had in mind a project or a measurable goal. An action item. Several things flitted through my mind … but from a place deep in my spirit, I heard a surprising one word answer: “Joy.”
That was it—Joy.
I prayed a second time.
“No, God. I don’t think you understand (oh the monumental narcissism of that statement!) I mean – what do you want me to WORK on?” A second time came the monosyllabic answer: “JOY.” That’s it. Just one word, no explanation at all. When I returned to our camp a half hour later, I found John awake and waiting for me. I told him immediately that I had been praying. I said “the strangest thing happened to me—when I asked God what he wanted me to work on, I thought I heard a simple one word answer – “JOY.”
My son looked at me with a crooked, ironic grin. “Dad—he said—that sound like God was really talking to you if you ask me.” I didn’t really understand what he was saying, but that moment stuck with me over the next 11 years, as my wife was diagnosed with stage 4, metastasized cancer, my family with through a series of life-altering crisis and I watched my so-called ministry slowly suffocate and die.
When I finally came to terms with the fact that God really was speaking to me, and that the most important thing I could “work on” in the year 2001, was joy, I slowly became determined to be joyful. Grimly and soberly determined. Clinching my teeth determined. I would learn to be a joyful person even if it absolutely killed me, damn-it! And it almost did.
I was rather looking forward to the empty nest syndrome a few years ago. I’m still waiting for it to start (I’ll get back to Tom Selleck below, trust me).
My wife and I have the blessing of having all of our adult children living in close proximity to us. Three older girls are all married – the youngest, a son, is single and is living with us while he finishes his university studies. There are five delightful grandchildren. My mother-in-law now spends part of the year living in a trailer next to our house and has coffee with us each morning. Four generations living within a 20 minute walk of one another. Ideal right?
I have had a ‘love-hate’ relationship with the idea of family my entire life. I have a wonderful mom and dad, now in their mid-eighties. They are healthy, lively and fun people. Nevertheless, they went through some tough times in mid-life, which just happened to be my early adolescents years. There was conflict, some of it a bit traumatizing for me. I vaguely remember being terrified by the word ‘divorce’ as it floated around briefly in our household.
I grew up and moved away into my adult life taking my traumas with me – and they grew up into mature adult life, and learned how to live with one another and have recently completed over 60 years of married life together.
Surprisingly, I also went through some tough times in my mid-life which also traumatized my children, some of whom were just entering into early adolescence and others who were in the early elementary school period. I’ve spent the better part of the last 10 years trying to make amends, trying to heal the damage that I inadvertently caused. I kept thinking that there would be an end point – a finish line to parenthood that I could triumphantly burst through and be done with it – with high fives around -- but alas, that has not been the case (I’m getting around to Tom Selleck and Blue Bloods soon, I really am!).
After nearly six years of riding the roller coaster of stage 4 metasticized breast cancer with my courageous wife Debbie, last year I came to a point of fatigue in which I wanted to resign from parenthood, or at least retire. A friend of mine told me how her parents moved across the continent when she and her sister became young adults. I have to admit that the thought was tempting (my kids are great, but, everyone is human, we have all sinned and come short, and there is always drama in every family!).
Enter Tom Selleck and his new TV series Blue Bloods. This is about a 4-generation family of cops in New York. The father (Tom) is the Police Commissioner, his retired dad was the former commisioner, the oldest son (played by Danny Walhberg) is a dectative, a divorced daughter is a assistant District Attorney and the youngest son is a rookie beat cop. Another son was killed in the line of duty and there are several grandchildren who want to grow up to be -- you guessed it -- cops!
Here is the point of this story. Every episode of Blue Bloods shows Seleck sitting at the head of the table as the entire family gathers for Sunday dinner. Also, in almost every episode there is conflict. Some leaves the table angry. Almost invariably, Seleck’s character says “I’ll handle it” and follows the offended family member out of the room for a talk. He listens patiently, and says something loving and wise. Problem solved, conflict resolved, relationship retored and family continues to rule!
Watching Blue Bloods and Selleck’s character gave me the desire and the commitment not to turn in my dad badge and go off on retirement, not matter how appealing that option seems to me. I realize that a lot of my aversion to constant conflict is connected to childhood traumas and unrealistic expectations of life. Life is conflictual and families do fight. That is JUST the way it is. Dads, we have to man up and do our thing. I heard someone today define a father as someone who says “no!” If dads stop being dads, what kind of world would we live in? Probably a world pretty close to the world actually live in! Most dads are missing in action – others check out early.
So, regardless of the drama, regardless of the conflicts, regardless of the messes, especially including the ones that I often inadvertently make myself while trying to be a dad, I will soldier on … I will cook Sunday dinner, and light the Sunday fire pit, and send out the invitations … so that the house will be filled.
My problem with political ideologies of either the right or the left, is that they provide pre-designed templates to apply to the issues, rather than forcing one to think through specific political and social problems on the substance of the issues.
Karl Marx used the term “mystification” to describe the distorting aspect of ideology to deceive people into accepting a condition of oppression or exploitation. This is why he called religion the “opiate of the masses” to the extent that religion provided an ideology that allowed the lower classes to be lulled into a state of exploitation and justified economic injustice. Subsequent thinkers pointed out that the distorting effects of ideology can be applied not only to the exploitation of the poor and workers, but also in a socialist or communist context where the workers are supposedly in charge, and yet terrible repression occurred. In other words, the distortion of truth that happens with ideology is equally likely on the left or on the right. Ideology serves to cloak the naked grasp for power with robes of righteousness and truth. But Ideology inevitably distorts truth to make it fit the left or right template. If the truth is a square peg, it must be rounded out to fit into the round ideological hole.
This makes it quite difficult to be a non-ideological truth seeker. It is much easier to have someone hand you a pre-designed template, than it is to try to understand and think through the substance of relevant issues of our day, each one on its own merits.
This brings me to immigration reform and illegal immigration. I have dear friends on the right and the left who hold entirely incompatible views on this issue. Nevertheless, there are very clear practical and moral issues involved that demand sorting out the truth and avoiding empty political rhetoric, nativist fear and populist ideology.
Here are some relevant facts on this issue:
-Most estimates indicate that there are at least 17 million illegal immigants in the U.S.A., 12 million alone from Mexico. If these people are removed from our economy, as some suggest, hotel chains will not be able to clean rooms, tomatos and strawberries will not be picked – which Americans are going to be willing to take those jobs EVEN if they are unemployed? Answer – almost none. What are the conservatives going to do, put them on boxcars and send them south? paLEEEASE -- give me a freakin break ....
-Illegal immigrants should be brought into the legal system and required to pay taxes and contribute to health care and education.
-By resolving the status of 17 million people living underground, the Customs and Border agents would be freed to focus most of their resources on stopping terrorists at the border.
-Morally, the Judeo-Christian tradition is very, very clear that immigrants and aliens should be treated with kindness, respect and mercy.
To consider one possible 'Christian' view in favor of rational immigration reform see this article by Allison Johnson quoting Rev. Jim Wallis.
It is amazing to me, how Christian conservatives who are very literal about the scriptures in some areas can so easliy dodge the plain and simple imperatives of scripture when it suits them. Now, having said that, it does not make me a liberal. That is part of the problem with the ideological polarization ... people are forced to choose sides -- I refuse to do so. I choose to be on Jesus' side ...
but, on the specific issue of immigration reform, the weight of evidence, legal and economic rationality and moral imperative tilts clearly against the conservative point of view. I have always liked and respected John McCain as a man of prinicple who was able to work pragmatically across the aisle with Democrats. If he is forced to support the misguided Arizona law for political reasons in order to get the fearful and angry votes of Arizona conservatives, I will be deeply disappointed. Do the right thing John -- even if it ends your career. Go out on a high note!
I know that people are mostly divided about the value of AVATAR and that it mostly got overlooked in the Emmys. “Great visual effects—unimaginative story-line” goes the criticism.
I also know that some Christian theological types have a problem with the world-view and the religious message expressed in the movie. Basically, it is native American pantheism. But guess what? We need to wake up to the fact that we do not live in a Christian culture and should not expect movies in our culture to have a conservative Christian worldview. When they do, we can be pleasantly surprised.
Let me try to draw out at least one positive aspect, one redemptive analogy, at least for Christians, from this story.
The message is anti-colonial, which is a “Jesus”-type message (at least more so than an Imperial message). The message is cross-cultural and missional in a non-imperial sort of way. The message is one of delight in infinite cultural diversity straight from Genesis 11 and Romans 5:9 that respects every culture, every language and values the ability to cross over cultural boundaries to learn new languages and learn new sets of cultural values. This was the message of the 1990s Jesuit movie, set in 1770s Paraguay called The Mission. One of my all time favorite movies! This was also, at least partly, the message of Dances with Wolves which I loved! (my main objection to Dances with Wolves was the one-sided presentation of military white guys = bad/Indians = good. Same with Avatar)
Having lived in another culture, learned another language, and having acquired the ability to appreciate a view of the world from different cultural lenses (in my case, Colombia), I am always thrilled to watch the process of humbling, stripping, unlearning and relearning that an adult goes through in cross-cultural adaptation.
Phil. 2 describes the original missionary process of cultural stripping, of unlearning and “laying aside” of cultural perogatives that Christ went through in the incarnation. The first seven steps were downward steps. He did not grasp for equality, he surrendered his divine perspective, he submitted, he humbled himself, he took on humanity, he became a Jewish carpenter in a specific place and time, and he became obedient to the point of death.
This process of “letting go” is absolutely necessary in cross-cultural adaptation. One cannot learn to understand the Colombian mindset without “letting go,” at least temporarily, the U.S. mindset. One cannot understand another culture without taking a step back from one’s own culture and learning to hold it loosely and view it objectively.
As AVATAR illustrates, there is an aspect of death in letting go of one’s own identity, as Jake Sully did, in order to become a Na’vi. And it is never just a uni-directional, cross-cultural experience: as Fernando Ortiz demonstrated in his study of Cuba in the 1930s, it is a bi-directional TRANScultural experience in which the change flows both ways.
And that my dear reader, is the primary reason that I liked Avatar. My God is a divine Father not a divine Mother (and yes, I enjoyed the Shack) and stands apart and above his own marvelous creation. I get it. But, there are still lessons that can be learned from this visually stunning movie and the story, repeated in many other formats and venues of a savior that leaves behind his own culture to take on a new identity in order to understand a people and to protect them from evil.