Friday, October 30, 2009

Wrong Kind of Holiness?

I have been a huge fan of the goals of the emerging movement over the past 10-15 years or so. The emphasis on social holiness (acts seeking social justice) is one among many that I most admire. That being said, two unfortunate things seem to have grown out of the larger movement. One is the co-opting of the movement by those who would rather effectively dismantle than simply deconstruct the faith.

The other is that in an effort to build bridges, open dialogue and become more relevant to an unbelieving culture, some among the community of faith have seemingly decided that certain moral standards previously associated with personal holiness are no longer of any real significance.

As an example, it is not that unlikely to find a drunk (as opposed to one simply enjoying a frothy beverage or two), emergent evangelical cursing strongly about something at a local pub. In truth, this has always been the case to some degree. But in the past, for followers of Jesus, it was seen even by the person committing the act, as a violation of our call to personal holiness.

Now it is almost a badge of honor whereby those engaged in the activity may proclaim their freedom from broken, irrelevant, institutional religion. They no longer hide their behavior, or seek counsel for it. They joke and tweet about it, posting the pics on flickr apparently hoping to be seen as, well, relevant. So has personal holiness become the wrong kind of holiness?

From the way I am writing, you can guess I see this as a negative. But maybe I’m off base. Maybe personal holiness has nothing to do with it. Maybe being relevant requires this kind of thing. Or maybe my whole understanding of the meaning of personal holiness is way off. If you think I have gone wrong, let me know where.

Funny, but even as I read back over what I’ve written here, there is a little voice that says, “People are going to think you are one of those up-tight, morality-imposing bigots if you talk like this.” Am I? Where does that voice come from?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

To Risk is to Win

We need a challenge to thrive and know
We are fully alive and not slow to arrive at
The adventure for which we are created
But is too often abated as we become sedated
Pursuing the falsely inflated, abandoning our drive
To fulfill that call of One, who causes the fall of none,
But dreams that all might run to
A life of challenge and risk and not knowing
Like a raging river that’s flowing
A swift current that’s towing us toward more,
Out of the shallows and into the deep.
Only this kind of life makes a heart leap
And dance and spin knowing that only those
Who risk may win, or ever begin to experience true joy.
Thriving through challenge is not just a ploy
To put us on the edge, overlooking the ledge
Where there is no room to hedge regarding our actions
Finding safer satisfactions in domesticated reactions’
That never led to a life that’s truly full.
God-fashioned creatures need a challenge to live
That human-authored utopias never could give or
Hope to make real, there’s just no appeal to
Living something that feels true,
But its emptiness revealed though
A self-serving goal rather than a life poured out.
That is the challenge – to live for the least,
Stop feeding the beast of self-serving gain
Where life spirals down the drain
Nothing assuaging the pain of
Knowing that my chance came and I missed it.
But the one I follow says there is grace, and I see
As I catch a glimpse of his face than I retake my place
And then pick up the challenge once again,
Back in the race, knowing to risk is to win.

Friday, October 16, 2009

". . . American Democracy is not my idol."

This is a quote from Cornell West - a very polarizing figure in American political culture with whom I frequently disagree.  His rhetoric is an odd mix of the thoughtful and reasoned, as well as the hyperbolic and inflammatory. Even so, this quote is really interesting to me. It has to do with what it means to be a follower of Jesus as an American citizen. Thanks to Eugene Cho for posting it on his blog. Let me know what you think.

“I speak as a Christian- one whose commitment to democracy is very deep but whose Christian convictions are deeper. Democracy is not my faith. And American democracy is not my idol. To see the gospel of Jesus Christ bastardized by imperial Christiansand pulverized by Constantinian believers and then exploited by nihilistic elites of the American empire makes my blood boil. To be a Christian- a follower of Jesus Christ- is to love wisdom, love justice, and love freedom. This is the radical love in Christian freedom and the radical freedom in Christian love that embraces socratic questioning, prophetic witness, and tragicomic hope.

If Christians do not exemplify this love and freedom, then we side with the nihilists of the Roman empire (cowardly elite Romans and subjugated Jews) who put Jesus to a humiliating death. Instead of receiving his love in freedom as a life-enhancing gift of grace, we end up believing in the idols of the empire that nailed him to the cross. I do not want to be numbered among those who sold their souls for a mess of pottage- who surrendered their democratic Christian identity for a comfortable place at the table of the American empire while, like Lazarus, the least of these cried out and I was too intoxicated with worldly power and might to hear, beckon, and heed their cries.

To be a Christian is to live dangerously, honestly, freely- to step in the name of love as if you may land on nothing, yet to keep on stepping because the something that sustains you no empire can give you and no empire can take away. This is the kind of vision and courage required to enable the renewal of prophetic, democratic Christian identity in the age of the American empire.”

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Love and Hate in America

So people who care about our country often engage in this kind of debate.

Position A: America is a nation founded on godly principles where freedom and liberty are a way of life supported by Christian virtues derived straight from the Bible. We are God’s shining light to a morally confused and corrupt world. We are a nation destined to bring the truth of God’s word to the nations. America is the greatest country on earth!

Position B: America is so corrupt in its desire for power and love of money that it cannot see it is the most depraved nation of them all. We are a country that wages war to protect the values of those who follow the Prince of Peace? Insanity! We are a country of slavery and oppression and big money, and that is the only truth. America is evil!

The circles I have run in for the past 30 plus years have been more in line with Position A. It’s safe to say I love my country and thank God for the freedoms we have that are denied to others around the world. And I am grateful to our founders for the wisdom they executed in establishing our nation the way they did.

Here’s the thing. As a citizen of this nation, and as a Christian, I have noticed an inconsistency between how I feel it is appropriate to view myself, and how it is appropriate to view my country, according to the circles in which I run.

Evangelical faith has taught me to have a transparent and authentic humility with respect to myself. I am a sinner in need of a Savior. Every day, because of the darkness yet to be rooted out of me, I need the grace of Jesus to forgive me and empower me to live a God-honoring life. Without Jesus, I am hopelessly lost. I know what I am capable of. I know the darkness of my own heart. I know my faults and brokenness and limitations. The Scriptures expose me with a painfully bright light. I need to repent, be radically transformed and live the new kind of life only Jesus can offer.

So what about my country? Are we who are taught to confess and come clean with respect to our own souls somehow un-American for doing the same with respect to our nation? Do we freely confess our sins, but deny and hide the sins of our country?

Why is it America-hating to bring into the light the darkness of our corruption, racism, and economic oppression of others? Can’t Christians, out of love for their country, call it to repentance? Some do it all the time with respect to issues of abortion and the sanctity of marriage. They are seen by many in the church as champions of godly virtue. So why are those who advocate for America’s turning away from racial, social and economic injustice seen as America-hating, socialists? Isn’t calling someone you care about to repent and receive God’s transforming grace precisely what love does?

What if both positions above are true? What if America is blessed and has a special call upon it to bring the values and principles of the Kingdom of God to bear upon the earth? But what if that mission has turned away from its godly intent and become corrupt and self-serving? What if it is true that we still have a great deal of evil in us and are so desperately in need of God’s grace?

What if our souls and our institutions need the grace of God? And what if God is extending that grace to us, calling us to repentance so we can be the kind of people who are a blessing to the world we live in, extending freedom and liberty and justice around the globe?

If this is going to happen, my guess is that the people represented by Positions A and B are going to have to find a way, in humility, to talk to, listen to, and genuinely hear each other.