I watched this today and thought it was fantastic. Thanks to Chuck for posting this link to Facebook.
Archive for September, 2008
Over the past few months I’ve torn through a number of books by C.S. Lewis. As I’ve shared with a number of friends recently, Lewis has not been a focus for me thanks to his widespread popularity. I read the Narnia tales while I was in seminary, Mere Christianity in high school, but have largely left him alone. His popularity with so many people caused me to avoid him. I don’t know if you have ever done something similar, but I can think of other times I’ve avoided certain artists, books, or movies because they’ve been so widely popular. I guess I was trying to be different.
Here are some of Lewis’ books I have read recently:
- ‘Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold
- Out of the Silent Planet
- Reflections on the Psalms
- The Four Loves
To my topic for today: Friendship. This past week I completed The Four Loves. In this book C.S. Lewis examines Affection, Eros, Friendship, and Charity as key descriptors of love. As I read the book I gravitated toward Lewis’ discussion of friendship. Of the different forms which love takes, I have recently come to the conviction that this form of love is the most neglected. What does it mean to be, and to have, a friend? What is it about friendship that is good, virtuous, enriching, and worthwhile?
Lewis’ discussion is rich, and in it he makes an important distinction which I would like to comment on: that which exists between friendship and companionship. Lewis says:
Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even task which each believe to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one.’ We can imagine that among those early hunters and warriors and single individuals–one in a century? one in a thousand years?–saw what others did not; saw that the deer was beautiful as well as edible, that hunting was fun as well as necessary, dreamed that his gods might be not only powerful but holy. But as long as each of these percipient persons dies without finding a kindred soul, nothing (I suspect) will come of it; art or sport or spiritual religion will not be born. It is when two such persons discover one another, when, whether with immense difficulties and semi-articulate fumblings or with what would seem to us amazing and elliptical speed, they share their vision–it is then that Friendship is born. And instantly they stand together in an immense solitude.
Friendship is a step beyond Companionship, and it is in the opening of Friendship, these moments, that movements may be born–a point which Lewis goes on to make. Lewis’ discussion leads him to consider the need for Friends to share some commonality of ideas or activities, remarks on the affection and love which can arise as a result of such shared interests, and exposes both the virtues and the dangers of such a relationship. Lewis distinguishes Friends from Lovers, demonstrates the way in which communities could survive without friendship yet are enriched when friendships form, and ultimately points to the reality of One who is a Friend and Master of Ceremonies in all Friendships, using these relationships as “the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others.”
In considering Lewis’ words, I found myself further convinced that Friendship is something which arises from the fellowship of the church naturally and spontaneously, but is fostered with less intentionality than other aspects of our life and discourse. We talk about having friends or experiencing community, but we neglect to examine what it might mean to be a friend or the skills necessary for us to make or to maintain friendships. When friendships do arise, we see them as a thing of beauty which has happened haphazardly, inexplicably, even miraculously. We talk about friendship being “organic,” but we’re unsure what is exactly needed in the environment for friendships to flourish. Aside from friendship, we focus more energy on the virtues and vices of erotic love, speak of the affections and the good and evil which may arise from them, and talk of how our love might be directed toward God. We speak of how to love our enemies and love our neighbors, but in what way do we specifically equip people move beyond the extension of charity and goodwill toward those near us and engage in deep and rewarding friendships?
In a world plagued by loneliness, the exploration and explication of friendship as a virtue may do the church a great deal of good. If we are trained to both be friends and foster deep and rewarding friendships we would only enhance our witness. As our relationships move beyond superficialities to substance, as we become known as we have been known, and as we mutually edify one another for the benefit of the body, we have the opportunity to display the wonderment of the life abundant, displaying the goodness, grace, and grandeur of God before the world. While I do not have any specific answers at this time as to how we might foster friendships better, how we might define friendship more fully, and how we might see this expressed in the local body, I’m working on it. And I invite others to join me in this constructive project–to write, to preach, to publish, and to live. Be a better friend, think of what it might mean to have deep and rewarding friendships, and find a small group of people who might live out a radical Christ-experiment in loving one another as more than Companions, as Friends.
May we have, and be, friends. For Jesus Christ and his name’s sake.
I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
Thanks to Deana for passing along this bizarro product. She commented on the grossness factor here; feel free to read her thoughts. Her page also features the flip side of this product. If you so desire, you can purchase some Lookin’ Good for Jesus Vanilla Lip Balm here.
I don’t know, but I think that the two ladies are casting some rather lusty looks in Jesus’ direction.
Posted in Church Ministry, Theology, tagged Book Review, Books, Brian McLaren, Christianity, Church, discipleship, Discipline, Finding Our Way Again, Spiritual Disciplines on September 23, 2008 | Leave a Comment »
Published this year, Brian McLaren’s Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Spiritual Practices marks the beginning of a series of books published by Tommy Nelson. The Ancient Practices series will address disciplines such as fasting, contemplative prayer, fixed hour prayer, simplicity, spiritual reading, solitude, etc. for the purposes of transformation. According to the book jacket, “ancient practices are the means by which we prepare for grace to surprise us. They are the habits by which our souls grow weighty; actions of mind, body, and will that close the gap between the character we want to possess and the character we currently have.”
Though I’ve written reviews and reports in the past, I can call this written response neither. It is a reaction. I have termed it such because I do not intend to provide chapter breakdowns, line by line analysis, or even a sure fire positive or negative endorsement. This is a book that I’m rather lukewarm about. I’m also classifying this review as a reaction because of my disposition toward the author, toward whom I have rather strong feelings. I finished reading the book a couple of weeks ago, enjoyed it in part, found it distasteful at times, and have kept it near my computer in recent days contemplating what I might have to say about this recent work.
I met Brian McLaren through A New Kind of Christian in the spring of 2002. My wife, whom I had just begun dating at the time, suggested that we pick up that book and use it as a primer for discussion about the Christian life. I devoured the book, she read most of it, and through it both of us were introduced to”postmodernism” and how this perspective is shaping and may still shape Christianity. I credit McLaren with shifting my thinking in a new direction, I’ve read most of what he has published, I’ve tracked “Emergent” carefully over the past 6 years, and might be considered a friendly, though not entirely sympathetic, critic of McLaren and those who are of like mind.
Finding Our Way again begins with a true to life parable, in which McLaren recounts an interview which he conducted some years ago with Peter Senge, one of the pioneers of systems thinking. This interview took place at a conference for pastors. McLaren had prepared to introduce Dr. Senge. He was surprised to find out the evening before that his actual task was to interview this brilliant man. At the beginning of the interview he remarked that this audience must be rather unconventional for someone like Senge, and asked, “What would you like to say to a group of five hundred Christian ministers?”
Senge responded thoughtfully, agreeing that he did not typically speak to such audiences. It so happened that the day before Dr. Senge had been present in a bookstore and learned that the second most popular genre of books where those on Buddhism, ranking behind books on how to earn wealth quickly in the new information economy. In light of this recent experience, he responded to McLaren with a question. Senge asked the group, “Why are book on Buddhism so popular, and not books on Christianity?”
McLaren asked for Senge’s answer to this question. He responded by saying, “I think it’s because Buddhism presents itself as a way of life, and Christianity presents itself as a system of belief. So I would want to get Christian ministers thinking about how to rediscover their own faith as a way of life, because that’s what people are searching for today. That’s what they need most.”
McLaren’s presentation flows from this parable. First, McLaren chronicles why spiritual practices matter. On many points I agree strongly with McLaren. McLaren affirms that becoming a person of character does not happen instantaneously. Rather, becoming a person of virtue takes years of practice and development. McLaren argues that spiritual practices matter because they are the means by which God transforms our character into the likeness of Jesus.
Next, McLaren discusses specific practices which stand at the root of character transformation. In his discussion he attempts to address Christianity, Judaism, and Islam as ways of life that need to be recaptured for the good of the world. McLaren notes how fasting, fixed hour prayer, Sabbath, the sacred meal, pilgrimage, observances of sacred seasons, and giving are all rooted in the story of Abraham–a common root for each of these major world religions. Whereas I would see this as a central theme of any book on spiritual practices, McLaren only devotes one chapter of focus to these disciplines.
After rooting spiritual practices in the Abrahamic narrative, McLaren turns to both Jesus and Paul. To be brief, McLaren’s discussion of Jesus is mainly centered on the kingdom of God, a topic which McLaren has written about extensively in his book The Secret Message of Jesus. When considering Paul, McLaren asserts that the apostle has been commonly misread and must be seen as someone working out the teachings of Jesus. Said differently, Paul must be read in light of Jesus rather than through Wesley, Calvin, Luther, Aquinas, or Augustine. McLaren describes Paul’s ministry as teaching the way of love, highlighting the apostle’s teaching on the ingrafting of Gentiles into God’s people through Christ (a form of radical inclusivity) and the way in which we are called to practice love as persons “in Christ.”
Moving forward from here, McLaren discusses the importance of spiritual community, paints a picture of “open-source spirituality” (taking what is good from a variety of traditions), and the need for a commonality between the Activist and Contemplative ways, two polarities which have existed historically in Christianity. McLaren describes the Contemplative way as emphasizing the personal gospel, private piety, the future-reality of heaven, and the avoidance of sin. The Activist way is focused on the social gospel, the common good, present-reality of earth, and the avoidance of injustice. McLaren sees the need for these polarities to converge in a balanced spirituality which engages communally, contemplatively, and missionally. These three ways of being, which I will not treat in detail, constitute McLaren’s “Holy Trinity” of a healthy spiritual environment.
In the final 1/4 of his book, McLaren presents three other ways of thinking about spiritual practices. Katharsis (via purgativa), Fotosis (via illuminativa), and Theosis (via unitiva) are explained through a story of an interaction with a nun. In short, these practices work together to yield a healthier and more vibrant life with God. Through Katharsis the soul purges the junk, the dust, and the cobwebs which have cluttered our lives, opening the way for a fresh engagement with God. In Fotosis practices such as lectio divina are engaged so that God might lead the individual to new insights. In Theosis one moves to a place where one’s heartbeat falls in rhythm with the heartbeat of God.
McLaren concludes his book with an exhortation to the three great monotheistic faiths to find their way again so that character might be developed, persons might be more awake to the world, and individuals may testify to an experience of God. Lastly, McLaren wishes to see these practices undertaken in hope they will lead to peace. He states,”What if there is a treasure hidden in the field of our three great monotheisms, long buried but waiting to be recovered? And what if that treasure is a way…a way that can train us to stop killing and hating and instead to work together, under God, joining God, to build a better world, a city of peace, a city of God? What if our suffering and fear are not intended to inspire deadly cycles of defense and counterattack in a vain search for peace through victory and domination, but instead, what if they can serve to break and soften us like a plowed field after rain so that the seed of God’s kingdom–a few notes of God’s eternal harmony–can grow within us and among us?”
Most people would agree that peace is a worthy hope.
While many of the things McLaren describes in this book are worthy, good, hopeful, encouraging, and, on some points, true, as I read the book I continued to be plagued by the thought that something was missed, or amiss. Why is it, I asked, that Christianity continues to be pigeon holed as a “system of belief,” and not as “a way of life”? All I have ever known of Christianity has come to me within the lived context of a people. Could it be that persons in the American context are not drawn to Eastern religious traditions because of their presentation as a way of life? Could it be, rather, that as people seek after a way of life and search for an option which seems truthful, Christianity as it is being expressed in America has been found wanting? Perhaps the problem is not with our way of life or our emphasis on information to construct a system of belief. Perhaps the problem lies beneath those categories. I tend to think that it does. I tend to think that our problem has greatly to do with our theology as it is both expressed and practiced, the erosion of our capacity to be serious in the middle of an amusement culture, and the absence of vision and leadership which reflects the grandiose nature of the Kingdom of God. The problem with Christianity is not with it’s emphasis on one aspect (cognitive) or another (practice), it is that both the system and the way have become hollow and cheap, rather than weighty and costly.
One last issue: McLaren ends his treatment of spiritual practices with an appeal to the three Abrahamic faiths, petitioning them to become more disciplined in their historic rhythms for the purpose of forming people who exhibit God’s shalom, or peace. McLaren wants to see us all get along, whether we be Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, or whatever. While I agree with McLaren that within each historic religion rest resources for peaceful coexistence, I wonder if he fully realizes the magnitude of his vision. A peaceful relationship between people of varying traditions is hard work. Just because it is hard does not mean that it is not possible. Yet, religion deals with matters of “ultimate concern,” constructs maps of meaning, and makes claims of truth about existence. Sometimes religious claims come in to conflict both within and between traditions. To me, it seems that McLaren’s hope for peaceful coexistence for a “city of peace, a city of God” reflects an eschatology that minors on certain central particulars. I’m not saying that it isn’t a worthy hope. I am saying that I have questions for how this works itself out eschatologically.
Though I read this book over the course of about three days and did find some nuggets within, in the words of Homer Simpson I could only grant “Five Thumbs Up” on a scale of 10 Thumbs. Good, but not great. If you have found some of the ideas I’ve outlined here interesting and can obtain it from your public library, check it out. I wouldn’t recommend dishing out dollars to add this to your personal collection.
I’m a Facebook addict. I’ll admit it. I check Facebook numerous times a day, I update my status semi-frequently, and I track the news feed. I keep up with friends, send messages, drop notes and write on people’s walls. I don’t just check Facebook on my computer, I track it on my mobile phone. It is an incredible tool. It is also narcotic.
As I’ve watched other people chronicle their mundane moment by moment existence, and as I have done the same, I’ve had a tendency to reflect back over those things I’ve chosen to alert the world to. I write about when I’m watching football, when I’m writing, when I’m working, and from time to time I make random allusions to things I like and dislike. Sometimes I write things that are totally random and ridiculous, just to see if anyone is paying attention.
One of the things I’ve seen people write from time to time (particularly teenageers) is that they are “bored.” It usually is not stated plainly. Most commonly it is a statement followed with an exclamation point, then accompanied by the appeal to “txt it.” Plagued with inactivity, trapped in the prison of their room, longing for human contact, these confessions of boredom serve to alert the world of the depth of their plight. Rather than picking up the phone, picking up a book, heading outside, taking a stroll, or divining some way of entertaining oneself, the Facebook status serves as the lament.
I’ve thought back to my teenage years. I’ve even thought beyond that to my history of employment, my social activities, and the general rhythm which my life has taken. And I’ve found that I have rarely, if ever, been bored. I’ve always had something to do. There has been work, sports, relationships, or hobbies to occupy my time and energies. And for this I am thankful.
The pace of my life might be slow, from time to time. There may be moments when I am alone. But I don’t intend to be bored.
In this world that God has created, boredom may be the most perilous of conditions.
May we be a people who possess some spirit of adventure. May we be a people that accept even normal day to day realities as a gift. And may we be a people who are never bored, for boredom may be a reflection of our inattention to the workings of God.
Dear Lord, keep me engaged and imaginative.
Jesus is a friend of mine:
Once I tried to run
Tried to run and hide
But Jesus came and found me
And he touched me down inside
He is like a mountie
He always gets his man
And he’ll zap you any way he can
As an added bonus, one of the final verses hints that this guy might be Wesleyan.
Posted in Church Ministry, Theology, tagged A River Runs Through it, Christianity, discipleship, evangelism, fishing, God, gospel, Jesus Christ, Norman Maclean on September 13, 2008 | Leave a Comment »
Something within fishermen tries to make fishing into a world perfect and apart–I don’t know what it is or where, because sometimes it is in my arms and sometimes in my throat and sometimes nowhere in particular except somewhere deep. Many of us probably would be better fishermen if we did not spend more time watching and waiting for the world to become perfect.
–Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It
“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”
I grew up fishing. My dad is a fisherman, as was his father before him. You could say that I am a fisherman, and the son of a fisherman. I have many great memories of being on the lake, river, or a small pond situated on a piece of farmland. My discipleship in the art of fishing began with a Snoopy rod. I’ve since advanced, though not much.
The words above from Norman Maclean are beautiful words. They are also true. Fishing is an art that requires patience, technique, experiential knowledge, and a little luck. Presentation, lure selection, and casting location can all be precise, yet every outing is an adventure that comes with no guarantee of success. You can have partly cloudy skies, clear waters, perfect temperatures, and been the first to hit the water, yet have your first cast come up a tangle of line or your first setting of the hook come up with a old sunken tire. Even when conditions turn out perfect, in fishing perfection is fleeting.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
As Maclean states above, “Many of us would probably be better fishermen if we did not spend more time watching and waiting for the world to become perfect.” I can’t imagine what my life of fishing would have been like if we would have only set out when all conditions were perfect, or only cast our line into the water on those moments when all was just right. If fishing hinged on perfect conditions, it would’ve been a rare day for us to make it into the water. It wasn’t uncommon for my dad and I to arrive at the boat ramp later than he would’ve liked thanks to my desire for a breakfast taquito from Whataburger. Every spring when we first put the boat in the water there was no guarantee the engine would start. Depending on the condition of dad’s aluminum bottom boat, there were seasons in which we would have to gauge the amount of water we were taking on so that we could take a guess concerning how much time we had left on the water before we were in danger of sinking. One of my greatest memories with my dad and Gramps was being on the lake as a light sprinkle set in. Being just a small boy, I thought every raindrop was a fish disturbing the surface of the water. That moment is burned in to my memory.
When I read Maclean’s words I not only thought of my lifetime of fishing, but I thought of my lifetime of discipleship to Jesus. I stopped and pondered the words. I considered how Jesus had called a handful of fishermen to be included among his close knit band of followers, and how for each of these young men a lifetime of fishing experience lent perspective to what Jesus had called them to be and to do. How often might it have been that conditions presented themselves perfect for the type of fishing to which Simon Peter, Andrew, and the brothers Zebedee had been called to by Jesus? I’m guessing not often.
How often have I, as someone who has worked directly and indirectly in church leadership, longed for perfect conditions under which to fish?
- “If only the people were…”
- “If only the community were not so…”
- “If only I were not so busy…”
- “If only I had preached a better sermon or taught a better lesson…”
- “If only the world were not so corrupt…”
Instead of watching and waiting for the world to become perfect, we cast our line in the midst of an imperfect world with the hopeful expectancy which comes through the gospel of Jesus Christ, knowing that the adventure which awaits is one worth the risk of losing our lives in order to find it.
God grant me the grace to face the chaos of the waters.
To those who frequent this space, thank you.
Over the past seven months I’ve kept this blog running strong, posting regularly on faith, culture, theology, politics, and sports. I’ve delved into church leadership practices, made my best effort at discerning present and future challenges facing Christianity, attempted to read the social and political landscape in the United States, and along the way have sought out friends, dialogue partners, and fellow thinkers to sharpen the discussion. Thanks to all of you who have visited, commented, and linked, and thanks to everyone who has stopped by to check out what I’m pondering. This includes people I’ve met face to face, and people I have only encountered through this page. Shout outs to Deana, Brandon, Michael, Andrew, David, Will, Pantheophany, Jeff, Kevin, Scott, Matt, Clif, Nathan, and Mike for kicking some traffic my way and for engaging my material. Special thanks to Ryan for sending me fodder for the humor mill, including news of Ric Flair’s Tuesday beating. Amazingly, that post doubled my total web traffic for the day.
In recent weeks my focus has turned to the American race for the presidency and to a variety of pop culture happenings. In the coming weeks I plan on posting some reflections on biblical material and various theological works I have been reading. Thanks again to those frequenting this space. I hope we can keep the dialogue going.
Former heavyweight champion of the world Ric Flair was roughed up by his daughter’s boyfriend yesterday, according to this report. I received a text message from a buddy saying he wanted commentary and analysis on this incident. I am unable to say anything better than the man himself, so ladies and gentlemen, Ric Flair:
“You know I just want to take this opportunity to talk about myself…”
“To be the man, you have to beat the man! Whoo!”
Word on the street is that Flair is already calling for a rematch at “Unforgiven.”
Over the past few years I’ve travelled to a handful of major U.S. cities, and during each visit, I manage to come across people handing out gospel tracts. I’ve seen these people everywhere. When there aren’t people to hand them out, sometimes I’ve found tracts lying in airport bathrooms. My wife and I went on a trip about a year and a half ago where every time we had a layover I picked up a tract somewhere. Everywhere I went these printed materials were ready to meet me. Maybe I needed to repent and ask Jesus into my heart. Yet, blessed assurance…
Out of curiosity I steer toward these people and take whatever they are handing out. I can remember vividly interactions I had with two different persons while visiting New York City. One person handed me a tract that stated “being baptized as a child” and “following the 10 commandments and basically being a good person” were not sufficient for salvation, sentiments with which I would agree. These conditions were the foundation of the presentation which was to follow. If you’ve seen printed materials which begin with a similar line of argument, you know that infant baptism and being a good person are portrayed as types of “salvation by works” which will be demolished by the proclamation of salvation by grace alone through Christ alone.
Again, as a Christian person I would affirm that salvation comes by grace through Christ. I wasn’t too surprised by the basic message of this gospel tract. What bewildered me about this gospel presentation was the fact that it assumed the majority of people reading it would have either experience baptism as a small child or have been familiar with the 10 commandments and considered the decalogue a reasonable basis for a personal code of ethics. That day I was walking with my friend Ryan, and I told him that I thought this line of argument was no longer applicable to our culture. The church no longer shares a common discourse or language with a nominally Christian public. We are no longer living in a nation which intentionally engages with the texts and way of life as embodied in the Judea-Christian tradition. Tracts like the one I received in New York City were written to another world which no longer exists.
As for that other person I can remember in NYC, he was outside Yankee stadium handing out tracts featuring Mickey Mantle. Standing on the Subway headed home from the game, I knew I wasn’t the only one who had been handed one of these tracts. I can recall seeing a man carefully reading through the material, then expressing his disgust to his wife who was with him. I was saddened in that moment, but was unsure what to say.
This week I was reading a book entitled Holy Conversation: Talking About God in Everyday Life by Richard Peace. In his 3rd chapter, “Really Good News,” he asks this question:
I do wonder if tracts are not a thing of the past? You don’t see tractlike materials used in any other areas of life these days.
I thought this was a good question for the blog world, considering this may be one of the most prevalent forums in our culture today in which people can express their beliefs on faith, politics, religion, and public life to a diverse and broad audience. The blog world just might be the contemporary tract, though the format and the means of engagement are quite different.
I am not someone who leaves “Tracts in my Tracks,” as one evangelist once exhorted me to do both in word and by walking the aisles of the church facility flinging tracts in the air. My life and work are tracts which I hope point others toward a different reality called Kingdom which is constituted by a cross.
In order to open this up, I invite you to blog and link back here with your thoughts on this question: Is the tract still a viable means by which to communicate the gospel? Or, has it ever been? What are your thoughts on tracts?
If you don’t have a forum, feel free to leave a comment. How effective is the tract? What purpose does the tract serve? Will tracts continue to be used by Christian people in the future, and will they maintain the same form? I’d love to hear your thoughts.