Thursday, April 9, 2009

Moving to a Better and More Spacious Land

Check it out.

It is clean, simple, and has a veneer of competence.

GO :: Opus Dei

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Here and Now | The Proclamation of Jesus Christ

Karl Barth delivered a fascinating lecture on the relevance of the Christian perspective on "a new humanism" to a secular convention of Western European intellectuals in 1949. His introduction calls attention to the surprising flow of history. It was unthinkable fifty years earlier to invite a "superstitious" theological perspective into conversation with a strictly intellectual field. As Barth introduces the Christian faith to its dialogue partners, he explains that he will not be able to conceal the peculiar nature of God's revelation to humanity:
"The Christian proclamation would be misunderstood today, as it always has been, if it were presented as one among many theoretical, moral or aesthetic principles or systems, as one 'ism' in competition, harmony or conflict with other 'isms'."

Barth’s stance is rooted in the belief that the Christian proclamation is composed of a different substance than that from which concept, theory or principle is constructed. Every mode of knowledge is defined by the nature of its object. Therefore, the nature of God necessitates a different kind of touching, seeing and hearing than something that is simply of temporal origin.

God is eternal and transcendent, but he is not impersonal or unknowable. The God of orthodox Christianity is not an impersonal force like gravity which pushes toward the center of the earth without reason or care; neither is he like theory, a body of impersonal information to master. This truth requires that we wrestle with the Christian proclamation in a mode of knowledge that accounts for a God who cares, listens and speaks- a God who actually revealed himself by entering our history as the man, Jesus Christ. The idea of the incarnation is at the core of the Christian proclamation of God’s humanism: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

The Christian proclamation is that God is “here and now.” This means, according to Barth, that God is living, practical, and effective as opposed to distant, abstract and impotent. Is this true? If God really revealed himself in Jesus Christ, and if the nature of God requires a particular mode of knowledge then, Barth is right when he concludes:

“Above all, we shall not be able to conceal the fact that this very question of the 'here and now' of the Christian proclamation of God’s humanism [Jesus Christ] has the bittersweet character of being always and ever of being answered, whether positively or negatively, in the form of the most comprehensive, personal, and responsible decision.”
The form (or mode) necessitated by God’s humanism can be likened to the way in which a person decides to love and know another person. This is because love is the most comprehensive mode of knowing because it engages the whole being. For this reason relating to another through love is the most personal sense of knowledge. And finally, love is a decision for which each person is most responsible. It takes work, intentionality and action or it is not actually love. Cultivating a loving relationship with Amy through which I have a revelation of who she is has been, at least for me, a quite different process than the way in which I came to know that the quadratic formula is true. The nature of Amy the object dictated a very particular, exclusive and rewarding mode for knowing her.

God is an eternal being not subjugated by the properties of our world; at the same time, he is a personal being who revealed himself, in love, through Jesus. This is good news! For Jesus said:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Authentically Christian Community

At a conservative Baptist college, I became disenchanted with Christian community. The contemporary church culture seemed to value entertainment, proper intellectual assent, and growing numbers over and against the simple goal to love one another. After graduation, I began work with the Navigators Campus Ministry at the University of Vermont (UVM). There I encountered a different kind of community centered on loving one another; the challenge of fostering an authentically Christian community confronted my own jaded assumptions of faith and spiritual formation in community.

Our goal at UVM was to build healthy and spiritually mature people, not to build a campus ministry. As our ministry team desired to nurture Christian community, Dietrich Bonhoeffer provided an articulate theology to guide us. He states that the greatest threat to Christian fellowship is a visionary ideal for community because this “wish dream” demands that members meet its criteria. This challenged us to rethink our interactions with those in the community whose relentless need and those whose regular disinterest burdened the ministry. Did an ideal for spiritual formation motivate my decision to admonish a student who showed little change over the semester? Am I allowing a student to exist as a completely free person, as God made them to be or am I fashioning them in the image that seems good to me? Admitting that I might not know what is best for a person freed me to better love students. It enabled me to release students from the pressures of performance and group expectation; it freed students to follow Jesus and develop into the Christian God created him/her to be.

The resulting community valued spiritual formation and in Bonhoeffer’s words worked to: “meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation.” In a culture of authenticity and collaboration, intentional relationships replaced gimmicky events and entertaining group meetings. Instead of creating a movement, we engendered an environment of grace. We experienced a community of trust where the message of salvation, the reality of Jesus, continually liberated us from self-justification and self-centeredness and spurred us on to love another in the manner of Christ. In short, I want to be an experience of Christ for others in the same way these loving relationships rendered an experience of Christ for me.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Transformation: The Death of the Principled.

"God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin."
St. John the Beloved
It is self-justification that holds the individual in darkness. This darkness is not a conceptual reality or a principle, but a relational position. The truth here is grace that enables us to commune in relationship with the Risen Lord, the living Christ Jesus. This grace is not an ideal, a principle, nor a proposition to accept, but it is an affirmation through relationship. Transformation only comes through relationship because it is only through relationship that the deep recesses of a heart are opened. It is not an intellectual assent to proper doctrine; nor is it through the study and application of knowledge that the structure of the heart is reformed; it is fellowship with Jesus alone that purifies a heart. Again, this is not just a theological ideal, but an ideal reality brought forth by trusting in the person of Jesus. The Jesus who knows the depths of evil in a person, and yet, faithfully forgives and accepts that person as he is.

The reason we do not experience transformation is because we do not have true fellowship with Jesus through the Gospel. There is no room for self-justification in fellowship with the One who freely justified the sinner by his costly sacrifice. It is trust that is the foundation for fellowship. For trust moves a person out of hiding and into the light. It is imperative that the individual trust in the loving embrace of Christ, because trust is the mechanism that enables a heart to receive the unbound love and grace of God. If you do not trust me, it does not matter how much I love you, because you cannot receive it. Trust is the door through which love must pass.

Darkness is the heart hidden from God; there self-justification prevails as sin remains unresolved. Grace is the means by which a person possesses fellowship with a God who resolves sin through forgiveness. Fear is the enemy of grace. John the Beloved knew that it is only love experienced in fellowship that can transform a self-justifying heart when he warned, "The one who fears is not made perfect in love" (4:18). Fear is conjured by performance, and no person can be in intimacy with Christ through merit. The goal of grace is intimacy. It is a a relational environment through which we interact with God, not a doctrine or a principle. In the form of a principle, grace justifies sin but it does not justify the sinner.

If it is easier to confess our sin, reveal our weaknesses, and layout our evil thoughts to God, who is perfect and holy, sinless and just, than to confess to my brother or sister who is a sinner like me; then, we must ask ourselves why this is true. The reason is this: we live in darkness wherein self-justification thrives. We are not truly confessing to God. We are confessing our sins to ourselves and also granting ourselves absolution (Bonhoeffer). It is confession to another that breaks the chains of self-justification.

A self-justifying man can never be known by others. He must protect his belief that he is strong, worthy, necessary. Above all, he must protect his belief that his sin is less than others. A psychic power struggle exists between individuals as each person attempts to position himself where he can obtain from others acknowledgment that he has made himself something. Confession is the destruction of pride by making sin in the form of abstraction into a concrete reality; it makes the principle of sin into the reality of my being.

"A man who confesses his sins in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of another person."

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
The journey out of isolation and into fellowship is through the grace in which we must trust. In the fellowship of Jesus, self-justification loses its hold as a person trusts in the truth of grace which demands that he reveal himself in vulnerability to the world. Only in trust, can a person receive the purifying love of Jesus. Only in the purifying love of Jesus can a person put his trust.

It is not the knowledge of Jesus' grace that transforms.

You must trust in the grace of Jesus.

When you trust in the grace of Jesus, you will experience fellowship.

When you experience fellowship, you will be perfected through his Love.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Reflections of Self: Solidarity with the Homeless

"All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away."
Isaiah 64:6

The bus, brimming with body odor and plastic bags containing the various possessions of the homeless, lurched to a stop in front of a shelter. An old, ugly homeless woman sat sprawled out on a curb. Her dirty, straggly hair was matted in every direction. Her weathered face, leathery and wrinkled produced visible creases through the caked layers of makeup. Toothless, she gummed down a sloppy pile of backed beans from a styrofoam plate.

An old, ratty homeless man who sat behind me noticed the woman too. He croaked deeply dehumanizing sexual remarks. My mind processed his crude comments several times before their meaning stung my senses. His sinister language candidly disclosed his evil mind. He spoke with a sincerity that broke my heart.

And yet, are we to believe this man different from the rest of humanity? Am I to think of myself as one with a superior heart? I live within a world that packages evil with glamour and allure so that it is polished and palatable.

The bus, cloistered with leather briefcases and Blackberries, hisses to a stop in front of Star Bucks. A young, beautiful woman sits elegantly on a park bench. Her skirt hugs her upper thighs, as her silky legs shimmer in the sun’s light. She sips her venti-no-water-soy chai. Make-up accentuates her natural beauty and a plunging neck-line gently reveals her vitality.

A well-groomed twenty-something man dressed in business casual glances up from his Forbes magazine. He smiles and submits a tasteful innuendo to inform his colleague that he is fond of her beauty. The colleague agrees and the two discuss the hope that there will be several women at the bar tonight that look as sexually desirable as the Star Bucks chick.

Evil looks good. Dehumanization is sunny.

Behind the well-manicured edifice, a simple evil turns the cogs of society’s depravity. We play by its rules to satisfy our devouring desires. We masquerade in fine regalia and speak with lofty speech in order to consume pleasure and satisfaction from those we can exploit; we work to accumulate superiority and power over those we can rule. These are the rules by which the homeless man lives. These are the rules by which the middle class man lives.

Without society's acknowledgment, the homeless are free from any social agents that might dictate behavior. The homeless man is neither seen by society nor can he see any hope in society. So, he lives with unbridled desire; speaking and acting in raw carnality. In light of neglect, he no longer abides in any form of a social contract. Those who live without a social identity, or at the very least a promise of social identity, know the true nature of a self: ugly and evil.

I see in myself the same destructive carnality that reigns over the homeless. He and I are no different, but I live within an environment that affords option and potential. I have options for a better sex partner. My own future potential deters me from indulging in any or every woman that would permit me to do so. I care what others think of me. It is my hope for something better that holds back self-destructive desires. I understand delayed-gratification. In other words, I know how to patiently manipulate under the operation of social constraints to gratify desire.

My carnality is wild, but my behavior is curbed by fear and pride. Everyone functions under these two powers. We cannot be found out; we must be accepted and so we are subject to the fear of rejection from those whom we desperately long for praise. We also decide what groups of those in society we will not be like. We are culturally imperialistic by default. We find those who we can measure to be inferior to us and then live to maintain our superiority. Most times we measure our superiority by things we can do well and by our own individuality. Such as: our music tastes, the part of the country in which we live, our religious views, our social concerns, the car we would never drive, the store from where we would never shop. Alas, we find ourselves battling an addiction no different from the drugs that are killing the homeless.

Innate depravity and spiritual poverty are realities that cannot be ignored by the disenfranchised. In the places of the city soaked in bloodshed, gripped with addiction, scarred by rape, saturated in exploitation and violence, the belief that man is good will invariably die. It takes the ignorance of privilege to believe otherwise.

I am the homeless man.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Reflections of Self: Despair in the Homeless

"The biggest danger, that of losing oneself, can pass off in the world as quietly as if it were nothing; every other loss, an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, ect. is bound to be noticed."
-Soren Kierkegaard
Each person has a self; that is, each person must build an identity in something. Kierkegaard states that "self-awareness" is the difference between man and animal. A man must find purpose, significance and meaning to his life; essentially, he must justify his own existence. This justification must come through an identity bestowed from an outside voice. A homeless person, no matter how hard he tries, cannot believe himself to be of value and purpose in a world that is constantly beating him down through neglect.

A gang member, who I met in an impoverished city park, told me that the homeless were already dead but still breathing. The person who builds his self in society is no different: dead but still breathing. In the midst of society's current, a person is consumed by the need to build and maintain an existence that will reap acceptance, wealth, love, accomplishment, ect. The self built in the temporal cannot last an eternity. Society turns its head from those who sit and beg, refusing to allow an identity to be gratified by its glance .

After losing his wife, his family, his job, his money, and his place in society, the homeless man quickly discovers he has lost himself. His self did not erode away as his family and society banished him to an existence of nothingness in the streets; his self quietly and subtly passed off in the world unnoticed long ago. Any time one feels a sense of one's own spiritual poverty, he covers it with pleasure or praise. However, he who now has nothing is painfully aware that he has always been nothing. Despair floods the individual who grapples with this reality: an existence of a self or an identity constructed apart from God is death.

The inexplicable joy and exorbitant hope possessed by many homeless overthrow the suburban ethos. Those who have are the ones who are to be satisfied, full, and even- blessed, not those who have not.
"Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh."
Herein the complexities of Jesus' words lie chilling truth: those who have not are able to despair in a way that those who have cannot. The poor are forced to seek an identity in God because society will not allow citizenship in man's kingdom. A homeless person intimately knows his own spiritual poverty; he believes himself to be nothing and weak- and unworthy of favor. Thus, the poor are enabled to drink more deeply from the riches of Christ's saving blood. But, those who have will innately be inclined to cover any weakness, need, or poverty to retain a social identity.

Blessed are those who society keeps weak and vulnerable, for the kingdom of God is real to those who believe they need it.