Destroy-ish?

Anyone who knows anything about 2 yr. old boys will smile knowingly at this comment from my daughter, concerning my son:

“Mom, we need to pray for Ben because he’s destroy-ish. God will change him.”

Wow, maybe Heidi could pray for all of us. I think, perhaps, we need it.

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Your Sister’s Keeper

A friend of mine asked me, in light of my last post on power and seduction, to think about what happens when women are denied power in church (power, here defined as influence over others and leadership over others). 

In this article by Amy Simpson from Christianity Today, she suggests that women with gifts of leadership will find ways to exercise those gifts whether or not they are endorsed by those in power (often men).  And when they are denied healthy uses of power, healthy avenues in which to exercise their gifts, the result is damage… damage to people and damage to ministries. This saddens me.

http://blog.christianitytoday.com/giftedforleadership/2008/04/when_good_gifts_turn_bad.html

It also angers me.  There should not be room in the Body of Christ for denying someone a place to use her gifts. Love and humility do not allow for that. Anyone in power, whether a man or a woman, in the Body of Christ should be using that power to empower others for Kingdom work. Accountability does not give us permission to deny someone the freedom to practice their gifts.  It means we should be talking to each other about how we are exercising our gifts, praying with and for each other, speaking the truth in love… but denying someone the right to speak in certain settings to certain people. No. I know I’m speaking in very strong terms here, and I know someone out there is probably ready to through some passages from Paul at me… and I am not ignorant of passages that appear to restrict women from holding certain leadership positions within the church.

However, I would ask that we keep in mind Jesus– His example and His Gospel.  The Gospel is power FOR others, not over others.  The Gospel is self-sacrifice, putting others before self, it is humility and grace.  The Gospel is freedom to be restored to God and each other.  The Gospel looses chains; it does not tighten them.

We are our sister’s keeper, our brother’s keeper.  This life is not about what position I can hold, what power I can wield. This life, a life in Christ, is about spending my life for others.  The power I hold, I hold in order to nurture others and set them free in Christ.  If and when I use any power, it should be to create opportunities for someone else to have the spot-light, and not only myself.  And it would be ridiculous to act in ways that assume I have nothing to learn from anyone “under” me… in fact, I should be washing their feet.

On a broader scale, this reminds me of another truth.  The Body of Christ knows no national boundary. I am my Ugandan sister’s keeper, my Iraqi sister’s keeper, my Colombian and European and Palestinian and Sudanese and Rwandan and Australian and Indonesian and North Korean and Iranian sister’s keeper.  Am I using my power to empower and love and set these sisters free? I wonder…

Power Seduction

In this, my second year of seminary, we have had two courses in “The story of the Christian church”.  The first took us from the very beginnings of Christianity up through the Age of Anxiety (just prior to the Reformation).  The second class was entitled “Reformation to Present.”  Although these classes were comprehensive as far as covering the lifetime of Christianity, content-wise, they were certainly not. This is, after all, an MDiv program, which means we only get a survey of history, theology, church leadership skills, Christian ethics, etc.

In spite of the limited nature of this overview of Christian history, something struck me, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. It seems to me that whenever Christians come into possession of power, we lose sight of Christian character. We losesight of the Way of Jesus.  With Constantine came peace and power for the church, as well as violence and coercion and corruption.  With the conversion of various political leaders, came the unique phenomenon of whole people-groups becoming Christian without a conscious decision to do so, without understanding the cost of following Jesus, the meaning of that decision.  The history of the Papacy at Rome is filled with abuses of power, love of money, manipulation, bribery, simony. The church-state relationship that the Protestants enjoyed in Europe meant more conflict, aggression and bloodshed, among Christians themselves! My own ancestors were burned and drowned and tortured in ways that I find intolerable to even think about for very long. In Calvinist Geneva, the Consistory and City Council believed they should lead their people into Christian morality, disciplining and punishing those who erred in behavior or belief.  They executed people for certain sins.  Executed them.  This is frightening to me.

Power is sexy. We love it. We grasp for it and hold onto it at all costs, it seems. It seduces us with promises of being an avenue for good, for change and transformation.  “If I held that position, wow, what I could do!” “If the church could just have more Christians in politics. If we could rule the land for God… if we had people in the right places….”  I hate to think.  I am not sure we are ready to handle the demons of power.  History proves we use it for ourselves; we use it over others.  We cannot be trusted with it.

Jesus shunned power, walked away from it every time people tried to give it to him.  He brought in the Kingdom with meekness, humility, poverty, nonviolence… by working the margins of society, not by becoming a member of the Sanhedrin or a leader of the Pharisees or a leader of a violent revolution to overthrow the Romans. This does not mean he was without passion or was not a leader of any kind.  What has captured my attention is WHERE he exercised his leadership and WITH WHOM. Perhaps we should learn from his example.

A fellow blogger has an interesting post related to this topic at—

http://redoraclejess.blogspot.com/2008/04/no-place-for-things-that-corrupt.html

The Sin in Freedom

Pawing at the surface

Pushing, clamoring, tearing away

Determination more than panic

Sore with the effort

Ropes around my shoulders

Cold ankle chains

Too weak to hold back passion

“It is for freedom…”

Love has set me free

I will move

I will speak

I will ask

I will sing

This is no sin

The sin was in the chains

Wells on Christianity and Culture

(Disclaimer: I do not have a degree in philosophy, sociology or history. These are just my reactions and thoughts on a book I’m reading for school.  I welcome conversation. Please feel free to push me on any of these issues… or correct me, if need be. Thanks.)

I am attempting to read ahead for class next week, so I picked up the book Above all earthly pow’rs: Christ in a postmodern world by David F. Wells (professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary).  So far, is has been an interesting read.  He tackles the issue of the shift in culture from modernity to postmodernity and does not hesitate to give his opinion, as a Christian, on the virtue or the ills of either cultural wave.

He makes some excellent points about the Enlightenment’s misplaced faith in human nature and human ability to solve problems and pursue truth.  He also lays out what I believe to be a much-needed critique of capitalism and its relentless pursuit of profit, the value it places on consumerism, pleasure and choice.  He even calls into question the American right to happiness, placed so prominently in our Constitution. My spirit resonates with these critiques and insights.

Wells does not work very hard to hide his bitter attitude toward modern or postmodern culture.  He speaks in glowing terms of the years BEFORE modernity, before the Enlightenment took hold and “exorcised God” from culture. He speaks of the “innocence” of America before industrialization and technology.  Can’t say I completely agree technology certainly makes it easier for the average person to access pornography or the personal information of pretty much anyone anywhere; makes it possible for them to do whatever they want to do (good or bad).  However, I am not so sure human beings were any more innocent before the Enlightenment.  I am not a history expert, or even a history buff, but from the little I’ve read and from the conversations I have had with professors of history, I believe human beings have always found ways to be selfish, to be consumers, gluttonous and evil.  We have also always found some ways to be good (glimpses of the image of God still present here and there?). Technology makes it possible for us to help more people in more places who are suffering.  It enables us to connect with people far away, to learn about them and from them.  Any new cultural shift or cultural wave has its godly and ungodly aspects.

In our recent church history class, I learned that perhaps the rise of “Reason” above “faith” (in the 16/1700’s) was due to the violence and corruption of that period in European history.  The years following the reformation were bloody and groups of people were clamoring for power and wealth, as they always will— including Christians of various stripes.  Perhaps the lauding of reason was a needed corrective at that time.  Maybe it was a good and right thing to call for reasonable thought and action, as opposed to waging bloody war over doctrine.  But it was not all good.  The Enlightenment certainly created an idol in human reason.

Back to the issue of society’s innocence before the Enlightenment set us on the course toward modernism… I disagree strongly with this assumption from Wells.  I believe it depends on perspective.  Perhaps for those in positions of comfort and privilege this was true. Perhaps they lived quiet, moral lives and participated in society as good citizens would, following the rules that were for the good of all.  But injustice and oppression and greed and violence have been around since human rebellion against God.  I find it naive to say that human beings (or society) were more innocent before the Enlightenment than after.  Children, slaves and women, people of certain ethnicities and beliefs were abused and oppressed before the Enlightenment.  The poor were neglected and jailed before the Enlightenment.  Is it worse to actively do these things, or to fail to respond to them and remain good quiet citizens who mind their own business? I’m not sure.  My question: How exactly were we more innocent then?

Wells also takes issue with the rise of “self” in modern culture. He views the self as a fabrication, a replacement for moral virtue, having its own inherent value and personality, freeing us from need to be good.  Again, I agree that this emergence of “self” has a downside… a very large narcissistic (hedonistic?) downside.  But, again, from the perspective of someone from a voiceless group or an oppressed group, this rise of self, of individual voice, is a great gift.  It allows them the dignity to speak, to be a dissenting voice against oppression and injustice.

I have only just begun to read his section on postmodernity, but so far, he appears extremely critical of the dominance of the “micro-narrative” above the moral “meta-narrative.”  And again, I have to say that for those who have seen or experienced the immorality of the moral majority, I can understand why they hold on to their “micro-narrative.”  Any narrative has its problems, its sinful nature, for they are all tainted by our human nature, our vulnerability to corruption when we get our hands on power (and this includes some Christian groups, past and present).

Okay, to end the rambling and wrap this up– I guess what I’m saying is that I’m a little frustrated by Well’s generalizations and raving against these cultural waves.  Each have come upon the Western world for a reason. Each have responded to the problems of society in their own fallen way.  I guess what I was hoping for in a book such as this, is a critique of culture that recognizes how God is at work despite our many failings in human society… and might I say, our failings as the Church in society.  We are not perfect and have been vulnerable to immorality as well. The stories are real and demand our humility, even while we do our best to communicate God’s Love, Grace and Truth.

Important Conversation

There is a very vital and interesting conversation going on over at a blog called “Natalie’s Narrative” (http://natalie.typepad.com/).  She is reading a book by Viola and Barna called Pagan Christianity.  I have not read it yet, but I want to pick it up soon!!  From the two posts she has put up so far, I think these authors are hitting on some of the most important issues in American Christianity…

the phenomenon of the average pew-sitting Christian, the separation of salvation/relationship with Jesus from commitment to a faith community, and even the issue of church=building. I’m sure there is more to come as well.

Can we be flexible? Can we learn to read the Bible differently? Can we step outside ourselves for a few moments and examine our presuppositions about “church” and what that word means?

Desperation

Desperate Housewives tonight:

“I’ve been through a rough couple of months– cancer, a tornado.  I know you’ve been through rough times, too, and I just assumed your faith helped you get through it.”

“It did.”

“Really?  Well, okay, how?”

“I don’t know… It just did.”

“Well, that’s not a good answer.  Look, I don’t know why I survived and so many other people didn’t.  I don’t understand, and I NEED to understand.”

“Lynette, I had no idea. Why didn’t you tell me that?”

“Why didn’t you ASK??  Oh, that’s right. You don’t ask questions.”

———————————————————–

Wow. Do we ask questions?

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