Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Reading Ramblings – July 12, 2020

July 5, 2020

Date: Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – July 12, 2020 – COVID-19; Euthanasia

Texts: Genesis 9:5-6; Psalm 139:1-16; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Matthew 5:21-26

Context: I offered my congregation the opportunity to request sermons on particular topics, Biblical passages, doctrinal stances, etc. I do this every few years. Generally I’m fascinated by the lack of response. Either the request is too unusual or people just aren’t used to thinking about what they’d like to hear a bit more about from the Bible or how to apply the Scripture to current issues and events. However, I did get one request this time around on the topic of euthanasia. So I am not using the Revised Common Lectionary Cycle A texts for this Sunday but rather a series of verses that address the foundational Biblical understanding about the sanctity of human life.

Genesis 9:5-6 – Most people think of the Fifth Commandment in regards to the sanctity of human life. And certainly that’s not a bad choice as an injunction against murder. But I prefer God’s words to Noah after the flood to provide a deeper context. In case we’re tempted to think of the Flood as a failed effort by God to restart things on a better footing, God clarifies just how holy human life is. There are many ways we can kill without violating the Fifth commandment – self-defense and capital punishment are just two Scriptural examples. But regardless of why we take a human life we need to know we will answer to God for it, and the implication here is that even in permitted circumstances we must never take human life for granted. We bear the imago dei, the image of God, and this makes human life valuable in a way incomparable in the rest of Scripture. To make ending a person’s life a matter of public policy or convenience or out of fear of suffering or the costs associated with care will one day be judged by no lower standard than God the Father himself.

Psalm 139:1-16 – Modern understandings of the human being as more or less a machine are dangerously superficial. Whether it is assumptions that medicines affect and work in all people equally or the lie that life begins at some arbitrary point after conception or that life ceases to have value and dignity once it is old or beleaguered with disease is to miss the relational aspect of human beings to our Creator. We are known, through and through. Not simply the byproduct of psychological pressures or genetic tweaking we are custom creations to such a degree that it is not without exaggeration but with too little serious pondering that we are unique in all of creation history. Never another person like us. Created and placed into history. That we might dismiss such a creation as no longer worth preserving based on arbitrarily and shifting criteria is terrifying. Likewise to the one who faces severe challenges in disease or health, the knowledge that they are created and never abandoned should be a light of hope in the darkest of conditions or diagnoses.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 – What is the thorn of which Paul speaks? Nobody is certain as Paul never defines it himself. Theories emerge and recede based on issues prevalent at the time. Whether a physical injury or disorder or an emotional or psychological trauma, the important thing is that Paul is well aware of the thorn’s presence and desires it gone and prays for it to be removed. Yet he also accepts God’s good and gracious will, unpleasant as it is. Some argue there is no sense or purpose in suffering, and that if suffering is all someone has to look forward to, they should have the option available to them (or to their physicians or family) to end their life prematurely. While we are not required to take every conceivable step to save or preserve life, never should we aim at death as our goal. The God who created us is always present and able to work in and through even our suffering to his glory and our sanctification.

Matthew 5:21-26 – Murder is not so simple as the taking of another life, or our own. Rather, murder is committed when we dismiss any other person, when we reduce them to an inconvenience or an irritation and see them as anything less than a creature of God the Father’s who God the Son died to save so that God the Holy Spirit might establish them in faith and trust of this reality for God’s eternal praise and their eternal blessing. I have seen no accounts where authorizing or legalizing euthanasia leads to a higher view of human life. Rather, once the door opens more and more people in more and more circumstances are deemed eligible for termination, even if they do not want it for themselves. The best of alleged intentions – reduction of human suffering – opens the door to all manner of other sinful motivations. The notion that existence should be without suffering of any kind is a curious one, given the prevalence of suffering in one form or another through almost the entire span of a human lifetime. Sources of suffering might change, but so also do coping mechanisms and the experience of our God’s presence with us in powerful ways. To determine that no such coping and no such divine revelation can (or even should) occur is to destroy hope at a practical level and deny the hope clearly promised in the empty grave of Jesus the Christ.

Facing the Mirror

May 28, 2020

The latest in celebrity outings happened late last week when late-night talk show host and comedian Jimmy Fallon was criticized for a Saturday Night Live skit he did 20 years ago where he impersonated Chris Rock.

For clarification, Jimmy Fallon is white and Chris Rock is black. In impersonating Chris Rock, Fallon wore blackface and it was this in particular that earned the ire of certain people. Dutifully, Fallon issued a heartfelt apology for his offensive actions. That is the expected response whenever anybody anywhere anytime criticizes you for something they decide was racist.

I was pleased to see that actor/comedian Jamie Foxx came to Fallon’s defense, drawing an important distinction between appearing in blackface to make fun of an entire race, and doing a particular impression of a particular person who happens to be of another race. Fair warning if you click on Foxx’ response above it is not exactly child-friendly. While doing a comedy sketch is unpardonable, public profanity is perfectly acceptable these days.

Foxx makes an important distinction. Fallon was impersonating a particular individual who happens to be black. He was not doing a caricature of all black people. I tend to agree with Foxx that Fallon’s impersonation was pretty good, though understandably tastes will vary. Comedic tastes may vary widely, but just because you didn’t find his impersonation very good or funny shouldn’t (and hopefully wasn’t) be the basis for alleging racism.

Is it impermissible to impersonate any other race but your own? I imagine it should have a great deal to do with what the purpose is, although we have to admit at the same time that what is considered an acceptable intention in one age may not be considered acceptable in another age – even just 20 years later.

Still, if the overriding principle is that nobody should ever portray another race other than their own, this principle should be evenly applied rather than targeting white people impersonating black people.

Is anyone calling for public apologies and/or self-immolation from the Wayans brothers and their whiteface movie White Chicks? That movie is only 16 years old and they were impersonating a particular kind of white female, but not specific white females. Seems like this ought to be grounds for an outcry, right?

Or Martin Lawrence might be called out for putting whiteface on as a recurring character on his TV show, Martin? Again, not impersonating a person but a kind of person. Appropriate?

Whoopi Goldberg in The Associate?

I’ll leave off pointing out Eddie Murphy or Dave Chappelle because their purposes were ostensibly to expose racism.

But we certainly needn’t limit it to white and black people impersonating each other. What about the universally lovable Tom Hanks? Should he be blackballed for dressing up as a woman for Bosom Buddies?

Pretending to be someone you’re not is not necessarily criminal. We teach kids to do this for Halloween. What you do with your impersonation could indeed be very, very wrong. That judgment has to be exercised within the current cultural conditions, though, and it’s unfair to call out a racist impersonation if it was not considered racist at the time – admittedly a complicated if not Gordian Knot to unravel.

It would be more helpful in the pursuit of better race relations to have conversations about these things rather than flinging hateful accusations to elicit knee-jerk reactions. This matter with Jimmy Fallon is going to quickly disappear, as it should. But it’s unfortunate that it was raised without an ability or desire to actually engage in discussion about whether what he did was racist in general, was racist 20 years ago, or racist only now. A chance to educate about comedy and that funny doesn’t always equate to insulting.

No word from Chris Rock on what he thinks of the allegations or what he thought or currently thinks of Fallon’s impersonation. Hopefully he’ll have something helpful and witty to contribute, something fitting for a man with a keen insight into human nature as well as race relations.

Cults of Personalities

May 27, 2020

I often am critical of our culture’s obsession with personalities. Individuals. Compelling figures of at one extreme of the spectrum or the other without much concern about which is which. People find themselves drawn towards one or the other embodied less articulately by ideologies and beliefs and more simply by the people who espouse them in compelling or symbolic ways. Our obsession with people as representative of positions is the equivalent of bumper stickers in lieu of serious thinking and communication. Bold. Eye-catching. But ultimately poor embodiments of whatever ideology they are supposed to be representing.

Or claim to represent when they really don’t.

A couple of articles in the past week caught my eye, bound up with the person of Jane Roe, the plaintiff pseudonym of Norma McCorvey and the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade which legalized elective abortions in America. The first is here, the second here. Much was made of McCorvey’s change of heart, the fact that she denounced abortion and her role in legalizing it. Pro-life people were heartened by the fact that even the woman technically responsible for abortion becoming legal was not beyond the Holy Spirit’s reach and could be brought to repentance. Powerful symbolism. Quite a personality to be able to say came around to the opposing point of view.

Though now that symbol appears rather tarnished. McCorvey claims in a documentary that she never really changed her mind about abortion, but rather accepted money from pro-life activists and organizations to simply say she had changed her mind.

The curious thing is that pro-choice supporters use this confession of duplicity as some sort of evidence of overall duplicity on the part of the pro-life position. In other words, if you’re slimy enough to pay someone to lie, your cause must be slimy as well. No critical comments are leveled at the now-deceased McCorvey by pro-choice folks, though in the first article the author claims that pro-life supporters knew she was willing to stoop to dishonesty to further her personal goals.

But what the authors of these articles miss is that McCorvey is not synonymous with pro-choice ideology and theology. The fact McCorvey was willing to lie for money, or that some pro-life advocates were willing to pay her – does not discredit pro-life ideas at all. I’m not happy people thought it was necessary to bribe this woman to lie. But her lying doesn’t mean my commitment to life is wrong or unfounded. My commitment to the sacredness of human life isn’t tied to one person or one organization. It’s much deeper and more comprehensive than that.

So yes, we put people on pedestals. Sometimes they deserve to be there and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes our accolades are misplaced and sometimes they aren’t. But the qualities for which we put people on pedestals – those are the things that really matter, that transcend the individual and that individual’s ability or inability to bear the weight of those qualities and ideals.

Just because you’re obsessed with individuals, don’t make the mistake of thinking they matter more than they do. As with most things in life, there are bigger issues at play. Individuals come and go, but the ideals and goals they espoused or embodied predate them and continue on after their death or disgrace.

Everything Is Political

May 13, 2020

I opined earlier this week about the goal of restarting church worship without polluting the effort with agendas beyond what is best for the people of God in a particular community setting.  As opposed to other religious groups who are issuing press releases and petitions and doing press conferences, I think a congregation’s leadership needs to assess what is best for their members and  make their decisions accordingly.  Quietly.  For their members, not for the public.  For their members, not in a desire for publicity and gaining members.  For their members and not for political reasons.

A reader wrote to say that in their opinion the entire COVID-19 handling is a political issue.

And I agree completely.

Politicians of all stripes and persuasions are attempting to use the COVID-19 situation for personal betterment in their careers as well as jockeying for control of and for their political parties and agendas.  I don’t believe anyone is innocent of this, and of course the media reports on this in a particular light and with particular agendas as well.  COVID-19  has been, is now, and will continue to be handled politically.  The Church should strive to recognize this and adjust her actions and check her motivations constantly, but politics will inevitably be a part of those decisions at one level or another.

Because everything is political.

This is both good and bad.

As creations of the personal God of the Judeo-Christian Bible, we are designed to be political.  Genesis 1-2 informs us we are creatures, so we are not at the top of the food chain in terms of ordering our lives.  We were designed for a particular political order, an order where we lived in harmony and obedience to the Creator’s design for ourselves and one another and the world around us.  We were designed with a need for an order, an order woven into the very fabric of creation.  Politics in this sense is not an evil or even a necessary evil.  It’s how we were created – with a need to be ruled, and an ability to determine either obedience to or rebellion against that rule.

In rebelling against this in Genesis 3, we opted against obedience and for an effort to establish our own rule.  At best, we thought we could improve upon our Creator’s design of us.  At worst, we sought to displace our Creator and supplant him and his design with our own.  We sought self-rule in the purest and most disastrous sense.  In doing so, we broke the design of the Creator and have ever since been struggling to adapt ourselves to this broken creation – and politics is no exception to that.  Perhaps it is the most primal embodiment of that struggle.  Who will rule and how will they rule?

God made it clear our replacements for his perfect rule would not be pleasant.  Creation itself would now be in rebellion as well against the stewardship  of humanity (Genesis 3:17-19).  Our very bodies would be in rebellion, leading ultimately to death (Genesis 3:16).  And though designed to be in perfect partnership with one another, that partnership was now damaged greatly by sin, resulting not in cooperation but a struggle for  dominance and control of one another (Genesis 3:16).

So everything is political, a struggle for control whether well-intentioned or blatantly self-serving.  We struggle for control  of ourselves and others on both individual and group levels.  This is true in the Church as it is in the larger culture and society.  No action, no goal, no plan can ever be claimed to be completely without sin, completely without some small trace of that primal selfishness that dominates our lives in ways large and  small.  The goal or plan might be laudable.  It might be the best possible plan, but in some way either in the plan or implementation the sin inherent in every one of us will make it’s way into and through the plan.  We must do the best we can, hopefully with the humble acknowledgement that the closer we try to adhere to the original plans of the Creator, the better off everyone will be ultimately.

But our aim is poor, since even that is affected by sin.  So it is that those claiming to act on our behalf and for  our well-being are not immune to the sins of pride and ego that lead them to apply their own policies and directives unevenly, to stray even from their self-crafted processes and mechanisms.  The temptation is almost overwhelming, and again this happens in the Church as well as in the secular realm.

So yes, I want to try and avoid other motivations as much as possible.  But of course that  won’t be perfectly possible.  That should lead me to a humility and willingness to listen to many voices.  It will also necessarily lead me to searching out my sin in the situation and repenting of it, and finally lead me to trust in that forgiveness not as a justification for doing whatever I feel like and indulging my sinfulness, but in a freedom that allows me to move forward making those adjustments to my attitude or my practices that are closer to the mark of the Creator’s plan, even if never a bullseye.

Everything is political because we are designed as political creatures.  We just  need to remember that we were not designed neutral in terms of politics.  We were designed to exist best under a particular rule, and to exercise our roles with one another in light of that particular rule.  Only by keeping that original rule in mind to the best of our ability can we hope to even hit  the edge of the target, let alone the center.

Don’t Tell Me I’m Brave

May 12, 2020

“Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.  Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker. “

 ~ C. S. Lewis ~

Trying to navigate the tricky line of when and how to reopen our country for life is complicated.  As articles  such as this point out, there are widely divergent views.  As articles rarely point out, it isn’t necessarily an either or situation.  Maybe we aren’t faced only with massive loss of life due to the pandemic or total economic and political meltdown due to the pandemic.  Maybe we’re faced with both.  Maybe we’re faced with neither, but rather a  milder mixture of the two.  Only time will tell, and we have to make the best choices we can.

But in the aforementioned article I find it fascinating that fear is now cited as a reason for not opening things back up again.  People are afraid, the logic would seem to go, and pushing them to return to work is going to cause them actual pain and damage.  We’ve all been traumatized, in other words.  Shell-shocked.   PTSD.  Whatever you want to call it.  As a nation we’ve been bludgeoned into a fragile psychological condition that now needs to be tended to softly and gently through continued government payouts rather than the cold, harsh reality of economic (particularly capitalistic) mechanisms.

That’s part of my fascination with what our media has done over the past two months.  You can argue about whether it was at the bequest of (some) of the political powers that be or whether it drove (some) of the political powers that be to their current stance on how to move forward.

First, yes.  People are afraid.  Some of them are terrified.  Nearly all of them are nervous.  If not for themselves than on behalf of others.  But that fear has been driven by our media and our politicians.  I’ll be lenient in granting that initially that fear might have been justified when we didn’t really know what was happening other than that a lot of people were dying in China and Italy.  But the fear went beyond that, and continues to go beyond that.  Fear is what should keep us locked in our houses.  Fear is what should keep us behind face masks.  Fear is what should keep us six feet apart from one another.  Fear is what should prompt  us to isolate not just for ourselves but out of fear we might somehow expose someone else to the virus who would be more vulnerable.

But this fear has been stoked steadily for two solid months.  Only recently have headlines in newspapers begun to mention other topics.  Still COVID-related stories are the majority of what we see and hear in the news.  Fear is natural, but people have been made afraid as well.  When fear is  all you push, don’t be surprised that people become fearful.  But also don’t then use  that fear to justify furthering policies that will only reinforce and strengthen the fear.

Now fear is not a glamorous thing.  It never has been in human history, but here’s part of the weirdness.  We’ve been made to feel as though our cowering in our houses is somehow brave.  We’re doing brave work as we lose our jobs and our businesses and fall back on unemployment and welfare.  That’s brave.

But it’s not.  It’s sad.  It might be necessary to some extent.  But  it’s not brave.  In part because very few people chose  to lose their job or their life’s work.  We were forced to stay home.  Ordered to.  Threatened with fines or imprisonment if we disobeyed.  We were shouted at through bullhorns and from helicopters over the beaches.  We were stigmatized by our fellow citizens.  This is not bravery.  At best it can be called obedience, but simply following orders is not necessarily brave in and of itself.

How can this be?

Because while we are told we are somehow brave and strong for ordering our food to go, we have also been inundated with real images and definitions of bravery.  Doctors and first responders get most of that glory.  They’re on the front lines, we’re told, fighting against the Coronavirus to keep us all safe.  That’s the definition of bravery.  It’s not an incorrect definition, either.  And that definition gets extended to a far lesser extent to those who work in essential industries.  Grocery store clerks and Amazon warehouse employees and all the other people who keep working so that those who have the ability to work at home or are already retired can order their food and groceries delivered and feel brave.  We’re told what bravery looks like, and it shows us that we ourselves have not been brave.

But we could have been.  And we could still be.

But it’s going to take the same mechanisms to change us that were used to create the fearful, nervous population we’ve become.

If the media and the politicians quit trying to paralyze us with fear and instead do what America has traditionally done – turn people loose to be heroic.  To go back to their jobs and bring their employees back.  Wear masks.  Avoid hugs and social distance.   So be it.  But be brave about it, not fearful.  America exists uniquely in history because it empowers people rather than disarms them.  You want to launch a business?  Go for it.  There’s no issues of pedigree or governmental control that should be able to stop you.  If you succeed, you might become wealthy and others might benefit from your drive and the product or service you offer.  If nobody wants what you’re offering, you’re free to change directions and try something else.

There’s the risk of failure to be sure, but the potential rewards of even moderate success are almost unheard of in massive portions of the rest of the world.  And people from all over the world still yearn and dream to  come to America to have this  freedom.  The freedom to be brave.  The freedom to succeed.  Even the freedom to fail.

Quit scaring people  into staying home while lauding the virtues of those who don’t.  Yes, they’re essential all right.  But in employing those terms you’ve just decimated the vast majority of your population with the reality they aren’t essential.  What they have to offer isn’t as good as or necessary as what doctors and nurses and policemen offer.

But this isn’t true.

Those people  are able to offer what they offer because other people offer things those people need.  Bookstores to order books to either grow in their knowledge and skill or relax and unwind and escape from the stressfulness of their career.  People who can cook great meals because doctors don’t have time to.   People who create spaces for people to relax and be together in like restaurants and coffee shops.   In myriad ways people contribute to the greater good, and to draw a  line with a magic marker that says these people are essential (whether they want to be or not) and the rest of you aren’t is just another way of instilling fear.  Destroying self-worth.  Turning people fearful.

Life is full of risks.  Full of dangers.  We have nowhere near the level of control we’d like to have, or even think we have and this is true of individuals as well as governments.  A great deal of the fear at play in our culture right now is driven by coming face-to-face with mortality, with the idea that we can die at any time and not necessarily be able to stop it.  We are mortal and frail.

That recognition leads to one of two courses.  One is fear.  Hiding and cowering and trying to protect ourselves from anything and anyone that could be dangerous.  Only to discover  that everything and everyone – even ourselves – can be dangerous, can’t be had or enjoyed without risk of harm physically or emotionally or psychologically.  Safety is an illusion because keeping yourself safe from one set of things opens you up to risk from another set of things.

The other course is to develop bravery.  Courage.  A willingness to go out and do what needs to be done, or to do what you’re able to do.  Knowing you might fail, but knowing you might also succeed.  Being rewarded for your willingness to take risks or innovate rather than simply do what other people tell you to do.

Fear is natural.  But fear can either be cultivated and nurtured or it can be weakened and sapped.  More than any previous challenges in or to our nation, this is the crossroads we stand at.  Do we remain fearful, waiting for others who are brave and strong to rescue us?  Or do we pick up our shovels or rakes or cable crimpers or bar  code scanners or measuring cups and set about rescuing ourselves and, in the process, rescuing one another as well?  Do we not only tell stories about knights facing great dangers, but encourage one another to put on their armor and mount their steeds and head out onto the field of battle for themselves?

Life isn’t fair, it isn’t easy, and it isn’t safe.  What equality, what comfort, and what protection we’ve been able to create is only because of generations of men and women just like us doing what needed to be done and doing it well.  Demonstrating not just bravery and courage but also how essential they are.  Why should we wait for someone else to tell us we’re needed or not needed?  Isn’t that how great swaths of governments around the world and throughout history have operated?  Telling people what they had to do or how they had to do it instead of letting the people figure it out for themselves?  Isn’t that why people want to come here, become Americans?  So they can make those decisions for themselves?  Be free to work hard and reap the benefits of that hard work?  Fail but learn from that failure and grow stronger and wiser for their next effort?

This is the home of the brave, according to our national anthem.  It’s time we remember that.  Claim it.  And start acting like it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good to Remember

April 22, 2020

I’m working my way slowly through Irenaeus’ Against Heresies.  I came across this beautiful reminder in Book 1:

For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can but little, diminish it.

Something for all preachers to remember and apply regularly either for humility or comfort!

 

Words & Looks

April 21, 2020

Your eyes can deceive you – don’t trust them.

– Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars: A New Hope

 

I don’t like the way he looks.

I don’t like the sharpness of his suit.  I don’t like the angularity of his face.  I don’t like the gelled hair.  Everything about how he looks and sounds puts me off.  I don’t trust him despite the Bible in his hands.

Or perhaps because of the Bible in his hands.

Perhaps you’ve read about him as well.  Or maybe you’ve just looked at him.  The Louisiana pastor gaining some publicity/notoriety for his refusal to cease worship services, for his suggestion/challenge to Christians to donate their stimulus checks to church workers, and more recent allegations that he threatened a protester outside of his church.

How do we discern truth?  Through our eyes?  Through our preconceptions about what is right and proper?  Are we willing to listen, to read, to sort through things to come to a better understanding of what is being said and what it means?  If you think you’re impartial, you’re probably fooling yourself.  And there’s a difference between being a good, quick read of people and character and knowing what’s happening in a particular instance.  Old dogs occasionally learn new tricks.  A wolf in sheep’s clothing may still be able to speak pretty convincingly as a sheep now and then.

I don’t have an interest right here in deciding whether this guy is right or wrong, good or bad.  But I try to recognize my impulse to write him off as such pretty quickly, and my  eyes are good accomplices towards that end.  I have to be careful in what I trust to guide me in my discernment.  Sometimes the easiest tools aren’t the most reliable.

 

 

 

Juggling Hats

April 9, 2020

There is no shortage of weirdness these days going around as people try to adjust.  Who and what is essential, and what does that make the rest of us?  How do we adjust to sheltering in place and social distancing?  How many people were essentially doing those things before all the madness, before there were names for these things and we simply had to call them isolation and loneliness?

Who and what are we when we aren’t allowed to be around other people?  Difficult questions to answer both privately and professionally.

But there are opportunities as patterns and routines and expectations are disrupted.  The opportunities aren’t necessarily good or bad per se, they just are what they are – something out of the ordinary.  We can step into them and see where they lead us or we can fixate simply on what we don’t have and can’t do and be.

So it is that on Maunday Thursday I would normally be leading my congregation in worship and remembrance, in celebration as well as somber reflection.  But we’re all sheltering in place and isolating ourselves socially.  Separated by a modicum of prudence and perhaps an overabundance of worry.  I can’t be and do who and what I would normally be and do on this night, but it isn’t that I don’t have other roles to fulfill, other hats I could be wearing when my pastor-leading-worship hat must be set aside for a time.

So it is that I could wear my father hat tonight.  My head-of-the-family hat.  Hats that sometimes have to be set aside to wear the pastor hat, just as for other guys they’re set aside for their engineer hat or their IT-professional hat or whatever particular hat they need to wear at times.  Some hats can be set aside at 5:00 pm and other hats keep unusual hours, and my hat is one of those.  But tonight I can wear my father hat instead, and lead my family in a favorite tradition of ours but one that’s difficult to keep up on because it conflicts with my pastoring duties, and that’s celebrating a Seder meal together.

I got to lead my family and a few friends through a ritual that dates back hundreds and more  likely thousands of years.  Roughly 3500 years or so, though we can’t know for certain if it was observed the same way through all of that time or not.  A ritual and a meal celebrating God’s deliverance of his people from death and slavery and oppressors.  A ritual and a meal transformed roughly 2000 years ago by an intinerant Jewish teacher who also claimed to be the divine Son of God who would provide forgiveness for the sins of the world, deliverance from death and sin and an ancient enemy through his own death and resurrection.  A death and resurrection historically attested  to by multiple eye-witnesses.

It was a blessing to recite the Haggadah again, to move  through the texts of Scripture telling the story of God freeing his people, and knowing that freedom is extended to myself and my family because of Jesus of Nazareth.  A blessing to taste once again the unleavened bread and the charoset, the bitter herb dipped in salt water.  To raise the cups of wine, remembering how Jesus participated in three of the four, while promising He would not drink the fourth and final cup of the Passover celebration until we drink it with him after the Last Day.  A blessing to hear my children participate, to tell the story, both the very old story of deliverance from Egypt, as well as the old, old story of Jesus and his love.

I’m not sure when we’ll be able to celebrate this as a family again.  My children now older and on the cusp of adulthood and whatever that brings them.  My pastor-leading-worship hat likely to be back in place next year.  But I’m grateful for this opportunity in the midst of craziness.

 

 

Book Review: The Spiritually Vibrant Home

April 8, 2020

The Spiritually Vibrant Home: The Power of Messy Prayers, Loud Tables and Open Doors by Don Everts

This is the second book related to an original spark of interest in possible discipleship materials.  The first book I reviewed here, and is mostly raw statistical charts with some basic explanation.  I had expected this book to be more application and it’s not.  Whereas the first book had more charts than explanation, this book has more explanation than charts.  It’s a further distillation of survey data and Scripture, wrapped in the kind of anecdotal asides and examples that seem ubiquitous these days (probably because they’re helpful to a lot of people).

Everts distills the survey data of 2400-some serious Christian households into three major areas that are hallmarks of a spiritually vibrant home.  Messy prayers is his term for devotional  and prayer practices as well as spending time together between the members of a household.  Loud tables has to do with spiritual conversations that occur within a household, and open doors has to do with hospitality and the presence of people who don’t live in the house on a regular basis.

So I was disappointed with this book only because I expected it to be the application part and it’s not.  There are some questions dispersed throughout to stimulate reflection and conversation, and he does include some practical tips at the end of each of the three major sections to assist people in intentionally exercising these three areas, but that’s about it.  Having just read the more data-oriented publication, this is mostly a rehash of that data.

My question at this point is whether I require or encourage my members to read this as the first step of a discipling program, laying the groundwork for the  application to follow.  Part of me likes the idea and part of me suspects it isn’t really necessary.  Some folks will be interested in the data that undergirds the premises, but I think the more important issue is that the data reflects what Scripture already leads us towards.  For me, the data is only useful insofar as it demonstrates that we should take Scripture more seriously when it talks to us or describes how faithful households interact.

Next up is to review the actual application materials – the materials my congregants would be using and working through likely in small groups as they digest what changes they might make in their lives in order to grow in these three areas.

Book Review: Households of Faith

April 3, 2020

Households of Faith by Barna Group

I blogged about a month ago about some new resources floating around my denomination that sparked my attention.  I ordered them and have finished the first part of them, this book Households of Faith.  It’s not so much a book as a collection of statistical data resulting from questions posed to 2347 practicing Christians.  The resulting data has been organized by Barna into four types of Christian homes:

  • Vibrant – engage in spiritual practices & conversations and practice hospitality
  • Devotional – engage in spiritual practices & conversations but don’t regularly practice hospitality
  • Hospitable – are very hospitable but participates in either spiritual practices & conversations but not both, or practices neither
  • Dormant – don’t practice hospitality or engage in spiritual practices or conversations

This book provides the statistical data and interpretation for some discipling materials that I’m reading now.  The idea is how to equip Christians to better build homes that include spiritual practices, spiritual conversations,  and engage in hospitality, the idea being that these things can be built on by anyone at any stage of life even if they haven’t been formative aspects of their home previously.

If you like statistics, you’ll enjoy this book.  If charts and graphs are your thing, you’ll love this.  To me, a non-statistician, most of the survey data didn’t seem to be significant.  While there were slight differences, more often than not the responses were very close between varying stages of life, types of households, etc.  By viewing the results as a spectrum to draw broad conclusions from it makes sense, but personally it’s not very compelling.  It doesn’t surprise me that spiritually vibrant homes embody these particular aspects because those aspects seem rather Biblical to me.  In which case, while the statistical data is nice, it’s hardly surprising, and therefore not as necessary beyond telling us what we should have already gleaned from Scripture.

This is not a necessary preface to the discipling materials based on it other than recognizing that there are statistical supports to the approaches used in the discipling materials.