Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Are you for or against?

I ran across a tweet today that asked this question, "Is your faith in Christ defined more by what you are for or by what you are against?"  I don't know how this question lands on you, but in my own imagination I cried out "What I am for!  What. I. Am. Foooooor." with my fist above my head as if  William Wallace had just asked me the question or something. 

But it really did get me thinking, what am I for?  And what am I against?  Really, truly.  And when I answer those questions how about this one: has my life been shaped to reflect these things?

How 'bout you?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Follow Me!

I’m always amazed at how much junk mail I get from Christian publishers.  Five or six times a week I get flyers or emails or promotional videos telling me that this or that new bible study is what will finally get people excited about following Jesus.  

I wish it were that easy.  Because then for only $159.99 and one half-hour meeting a week, I could get all kinds of people excited to follow Jesus for the rest of their lives.  All I'd have to do is have people work through a green notebook, and then watch a video, one that was filled with Christian Rock Stars and Professional Athletes no doubt.  Wouldn't that be great?  Trouble is, according to Scripture this is a severely inadequate approach to life change.

How did Jesus do it?  He gave sermons and told stories and gave teachings no doubt about it.  But when Jesus went about changing someone's life, he’d walk up to that person and say, “Follow me!  Give me a few years, come with me from town to town.  Watch how I treat people.  Watch how I live.  Watch how I pray.  And do what I do.”  

How about the apostle Paul?  What did he say?  "Imitate me as I imitate Christ," he said. "Watch what I do and do it." 

It seems to me that the first step in becoming like Jesus is to find someone who actually follows Jesus.  And not so that you can take a class from them, or listen to their sermons.  No, find someone who follows Jesus, let them into your life and live like they do.

It is true that you can learn a lot about faith all by yourself.  You can read books, listen to teachings.  You can even read the bible on your own.  But if you want a life that is transformed by God then you need people.  Because transformation happens in community. It always has.

I was on the phone with a sales rep for one of these bible study series one time, and the rep says to me over the phone, “Pastor, this curriculum is simply the best resource that you can offer your students.”  I said to the man, “I don’t mean any disrespect, but I don’t believe that to be true. The best resource I have to offer my students are the people of Emmaus Church.”  

That’s what I told him, because I hold the deep conviction that Christianity is not primarily a list of propositions to be believed.  Christianity is a life to be lived. 

Friday, May 13, 2011

Harmon Killebrew, Field of Dreams, and my dad

Hospice care promoter, and Minnesota Twins great, Harmon Killebrew announced today that he himself will enter hospice care and give up his battle against esophageal cancer.  He is a good man, a hall-of-famer, and he is a part of every Twins fan's memory.

My father, who was a life-long twins fan, was the first one to teach me about Harmon Killebrew.  I can remember sitting in the now deflated Metrodome as a boy with my dad.  I would watch a game that I was learning to love, and listen to my dad share stories about the old Met Stadium, and Tony Oliva, and Jim Kaat, and Rod Carew, and of course, the great Harmon Killebrew.

Killebrew was a monster of a hitter.  His 573 career home runs currently place him 11th on the all-time home run list in Major League Baseball.  His eight seasons with 40 or more home runs ties him for second all-time.  He was an 11-time All Star, and he was MLB's MVP in 1969 when he had 49 home runs, 140 RBIs, and had 145 walks.  They called him The Killer.  And The Killer is one of us.  He is a Minnesota Twin.  And he helped my dad fall in love with baseball.

My dad passed away almost ten years ago now.  And like anyone who has had to say goodbye to a loved one in their life, I miss my dad.  Every time I
watch the Twins play, I think about him.  This year my brother and I had my dad's name engraved on a memorial wall just outside the new Twins stadium.  There's a quote by Garrison Keillor at the top of it.  And fittingly, it stands a couple dozen feet away from the statue of my own childhood Twins hero, Kirby Puckett.  It also stands a couple dozen feet away from my dad's childhood Twins hero.  The statue of Harmon Killebrew.

James Earl Jones told us in Field of Dreams that baseball has the mark of time.  That basebell is a part of our past.  That this game reminds us of all of what was once good, and what could be again.  Reading the news today about Harmon Killebrew reminded me of my dad, and the days of my youth, when I would eat Cracker Jacks and listen to my old man go on an on about some old guys that I'd never heard of before.  The news today reminded me of my dad's love for baseball, and his love for me.

Mr. Killebrew, if you ever run across this piece, I want to thank you for all the memories you've given so many of us.  But mostly, I want to thank you for helping my old man fall in love with baseball.  May God grant you peace.

Friday, May 6, 2011

the god of latitude

I listened to an interview with a NYC firefighter minutes before president Obama’s speech to the nation.  One of the man’s comments struck me.  He said, “I speak for all the firefighters and police officers in New York City when I say I hope bin Laden rots in hell.” 

The reaction to bin Laden’s death has sparked a grassfire of online commentary by clergy and Christian ethicists this past week (see links to some of my favorites below).  Bloggers and Tweeters are pondering how Christians should feel about the death of this, or any, enemy.  They are debating the appropriateness of celebrating the end of human life.  While others, perhaps understandably, are promoting the sentiment expressed by that firefighter.  And each of them quote the bible to make their case.

Christians should of course allow Scripture to inform how we walk through these sorts of events.  But in doing so we must also remember that Scripture is not a static plain.  It is not just a book of ethics or just a moral compass.  The bible is that to be sure, but not only that.  Scripture, after all, is mostly poetry, narrative, and other people’s mail.  So every now and again some pieces of the narrative and poetic imagination will jump off the plain.

Take all the Scripture being used to address our response to bin Laden’s death for example.  If you were to make a list of all the bible verses used by all the bloggers and tweeters and facebookers you would find that within the bible there exists a wide range of reactions to the downfall of an enemy.  For every “love thy enemy” verse there is a counterpart.  God’s people, for example, celebrate in the streets whenever one of their warriors, David, returns from battle carrying the body parts of their enemies as booty (e.g., 1 Sam 17:51-18:27).  The bible also contains holy songs that express a hope for the babies of the enemy to be turned into corpses (Ps 137:9, see also Ps 69 and Ps 109).  These are just a couple of examples. 

One response to diversity like this within the bible is to flatten one side of the conversation in favor of the other.  This approach gives the appearance of a strict ethic on everything in the bible.  But this approach also marginalizes certain texts in favor of others.  And when this happens we often lose our ability to hear Scripture speaking to all sides of life.  Another response is to identify the bible as a book filled with contradictions.  To which one is tempted to respond, “Life seems this way too, but we still live it.”  

What this variety within Scripture suggests to me, however, is that the bible does not ignore the complexity of the human heart.  It takes seriously our experiences of pain, loss, hatred, and anger - even our deep pining for vengeance.  The bible is not silent on issues of painful collective memory or deep national loss.  So in some places it jumps off the plain a bit.

Certainly some responses to bin Laden’s death have been more appropriate than others, but the latitude within Scripture on this issue suggests to me that whatever some one's reaction to bin Laden’s death might be, God understands.  He does.  God gets people.

And this is the most important thing to remember about the bible.  Scripture is most interested in drawing the human experience into the arms of God.  The bible points us to the God who can restore our loss, all of it.  It points us to the God who sees beyond our vengeance and reaches into the pain of our memory.  And this God allows the latitude for people to express the pain of their memory.  This includes NYC firefighters.


Here are some great theological insights on our response to bin Laden's death (Thanks Silas and Forrest for sending them my way):

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