Friday, September 30, 2005

Christian Idolatry

It was great having Adam Ellis spend last week with us as he was taking his grad class at Lipscomb. Not only did I get to talk theology and play Halo2 with him, I got to get his class notes and he gave me a slew of CDs with talks, lectures, and sermons on them. Rob Bell, NT Wright, Stanley Grenz, Mike Cope, and Randy Harris. One in particular from Randy Harris hit me like a sledgehammer to my forehead.

Harris is speaking to a unity meeting between Churches of Christ and Independent Christian Churches. To give some context, in 1906 the U.S. Census Bureau officially recognized a split in the Christian Church along denominational lines, based particularly on the use of instrumental music but there were others, with the Churches of Christ going non-instrumental and Christian Churches going instrumental, and I’ve really simplified that. With the 100 year anniversary of this event coming up, there have been unity meetings concerning trying to get back together in some areas and the event Harris is speaking at is one of those.

The talk was called “Focusing Your Vision.” He was assigned to talk about Exodus 32:1-6 and he digs deeply into idolatry. The point he makes from this passage and it’s very clear in verse 5 is that the people of Israel did not abandon the worship of God/YHWH; they added the worship of idols to their worship of God. And this becomes a pattern for the people of Israel, with Solomon and Ahab being primary examples.

Of course, Harris doesn’t let us in the church go scot-free. He gives a three part quiz to tell if we are idolaters or not.

  • If we pay more attention to the seen and the present than to what lies behind it even if what is seen and present is good.

  • If we give part of our lives wholly and completely to God and have other parts where God barely touches it.

  • If we talk more than we listen.

Now, I could talk a lot about those three things, but it’s in the first one that Harris really hit me. He said there are three examples of this in how the Churches of Christ and Christian churches are totally united.

  • Nationalism
    We have married the destiny of the church and of the Kingdom of God with America's destiny to such an extent that we are far less willing to take the hand of our brothers and sisters in other countries than we are to grab our flag or a gun to kill them. The Kingdom of God existed long before America did and will exist long after she is gone. The prayer should not be “God Bless America” or even “God Bless the World through America.” In my opinion, it should simply be, “May Your Kingdom Come.”

  • Ecclesiolatry
    We have made the church into an idol. We have made doing church in a certain way so important that we lose the reason for doing church, i.e. the gathering of the community of faith, whether on Sunday morning with 800 people or Friday at lunch with two. This is one of the reasons I love the discussion Tim Woodroof (my preacher) has of this in A Church that Flies. We have forgotten that form should come out of function, not the other way around.

  • Bibliolatry
    We have made the Bible into an idol. I have definitely seen this one in the Churches of Christ. We have made the Bible God, not the Word of God. We have put the Bible in such a place that we forget that the Bible points to and reveals God; it is not God. We have made the interpretation of certain passages litmus tests for faithfulness and forgotten that Scripture was not written in a vacuum. It was written by men (and women) who existed in a certain culture, just as we exist in a certain culture that we read it through. It is simply impossible to read the Bible totally objectively. Just the fact that we’re reading it in English means it was interpreted in a certain way.

There’s a lot more in this talk, particularly about the ways that Harris gives to avoid these idolatries. I wish all of you could hear it, but as I’ve listened to it three times in the last week, it’s had a strong affect on me. If you know me or are coming to the Zoe Conference next week, we might be able to work something out so that you could hear it.

I pray that God gives us the strength to stop worshipping our idols and devote ourselves totally to Him.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

New Template

I got kind of tired of the old one and really wanted a good three column layout, so here it is.

If you want it, I got it from this site:

The specific one I'm using (with tweaking) is this one.

I'll have a regular post tomorrow.

Friday, September 23, 2005


Jumping in the deep end.

Ever since the devastation of Katrina, I’ve been curious about the social implications of what happened. One thing that I heard a lot from commentators and opinion people was that this was a tragedy of epic proportions and that this exposed the deep-seeded nature of racism in America. Even someone like Kanye West made perhaps the boldest statement of all in declaring that “George Bush doesn't care about black people.” (See here for the video clip of it. You need QuickTime for it.)

What all of that has done is get me thinking about race and the Christian disciple, particularly my relationship with people of different colors. One of my greatest fears is for someone to call me a racist, because I feel like I try very hard to not show preference to one race over another, but also, because in some ways I worry if I really am a racist or not.

To be completely honest, I am extremely judgmental about things. I look at a person and form an opinion about him or her almost immediately. And that is completely based on physical attributes, while my judgments on those are completely formed by society. For instance, attractive, thin blond female wearing a shirt and pants that show her stomach and I will have a positive opinion of her, but for an African-American male wearing baggy clothes and I will probably be pretty wary of him. A Hispanic male looking grungy and dirty and my first thought is whether or not he is an illegal alien.

Now please understand. I realize the mistakes in this and in my life I try to rectify them. I almost feel like this is a genetic sin because of where I’ve grown up (the American South) and the deeply inherent feelings about race. But you know the funny thing is that I rarely think about the fact that I am a white male. And I think that’s because neither my race nor my sex is a barrier to me in anything I want to do. I don’t have cops following me around a mall just watching me. I can get any job that I want to have, from preacher to salesperson without limit. So I wonder what it’s like to go through life with the color of my skin being one of the defining characteristics to my self identity and how others perceive me.

I feel like I’ve rambled through a lot of this and I didn’t even really hit on what I think is a bigger barrier in America than race and that’s socio-economic status (for instance, how do you evacuate from a hurricane area when you don’t have a car or money for a hotel?). What I do want is to pray that God will give me eyes that respect and see the value of each person that I encounter. That I will see Jesus in them and love them for who they are as someone created in God’s image. I don’t want color blind eyes. I want to see in full color as Ralph Ellison described in The Invisible Man. I want to be able to judge people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said.

This is imperative for me as a follower of Christ. It’s imperative for all of us.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Responding to a tag

OK. Tiffany tagged me. So I'm going to answer off schedule...

7 things I plan to do before I die

- Visit Rome, Athens, and Israel
- Publish a book too
- See the Boston Red Sox play in Fenway Park
- Do graduate courses in theology
- See my grandchildren
- Run a marathon
- Become an authentic follower of Christ

7 things I can do:
- Ride a horse
- Do a literary analysis of a play while high school students are reading it aloud
- Write a short story
- Speak publicly
- Run sound and powerpoint simultaneously
- Teach in Tennessee
- Get involved in an argument over theological minutiae

7 things I cannot do:
- Keep from getting annoyed with people not on my timetable
- Keep from reading and commenting on blogs
- Go into outer space
- Give birth
- Fly without assistance
- Remember many dreams
- Be uncritical of myself or others

7 things that attract me to another person:
- Honesty
- Beauty of mind, soul, and body
- Eyes
- Smile
- Laughter
- A gentle touch
- Sarcasm

7 Celebrity Crushes
- Lindsay Lohan (yes, she's 19)
- Carla Guigino
- Tina Fey
- Faith Hill
- Erin Gray (Wilma Deering from Buck Rogers)
- Catherine Zeta-Jones
- George Clooney (nonsexual man crush)

7 things I say the most
- Crap
- Whatever
- Indeed
- Geez
- Trust me
- I love you, Sheryl
- I love you, Kinsey

7 People I'm going to tag
- I'd
- tell
- you
- but
- then
- I'd
- have

Friday, September 16, 2005

A Curious Thought

A curious thought struck me yesterday.

One of the things that has warmed my heart about the response to the hurricane in the last three weeks is the one that people of faith have taken towards it. It seems that people from every tribe of Christianity (and other faiths) have taken it upon themselves to take in and care for the evacuees, to go down to Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama to clean up and start rebuilding. This is a good thing.

The curious thought came out of the context of these actions. Most of you know that I’ve done a lot of reading over the last 2 years or so. Brian McLaren, N.T. Wright, copious blogs, etc. The trap of this kind of reading is that it becomes very easy to take pride in my knowledge, my enlightened understanding of Jesus, God, and the duty of Christians as the body of Christ in this world. Those are not bad things in and of themselves, but the spiritual arrogance or the spiritual superiority complex that I blogged about a while ago is so subtle. I can listen to someone talk, blog, or even preach, and think, “Wow, they just don’t have the understanding I do. How sad for them. How great for me.” Stupid? Yes. A part of my flesh that I have yet to completely put aside? Absolutely.

And then I hear about all the great works being done in the area of the hurricane. And I hear about some of the churches that are doing that work and the truth is that I probably wouldn’t feel very comfortable in most of those churches. I’d either find the theology too lacking for me, or the worship style not exuberant enough, or I’d find some other way to judge the whole thing. And that’s stupid. Because I truly believe that God sees the comfort these churches are giving to the least of these and smiles. I believe that He walks with us through His Spirit as we try to do these things, beside brothers and sisters that we wouldn’t normally associate with to do good work for the Kingdom. And He is well pleased with His sons and daughters.

Friday, September 09, 2005

The Joy of Community; the Peace of Solitude

Well, first off, thanks to everyone for responding in the way they did to last week’s blog. Do I feel better? Yes, I do, thanks to the responses that people made as well as this article by Tony Campolo. Am I still grieved by the incalculable loss of life? Very much so, but what I realize is that I can do nothing about that and could have done nothing about that. I can help alleviate the suffering in the small ways that I can.

btw, everyone should check out Theomoments. It's a blog by a guy comparing theology with jazz and doing some really different and interesting thinking. It's well worth the time to peruse it.

Well, I’m going to cop out a bit today and post the bulletin article that I wrote for this Sunday. You Otter Creekers are getting a sneak preview. It’s about the trip to the monastery that my wife and I took at the end of August.

Three weeks ago, 14 Otter Creek pilgrims journeyed down to Cullman, Alabama. We went to experience a time of peace with the sisters of the Sacred Heart Monastery, a Benedictine Spirituality Center. While there, we got to experience community with the Sisters. Saturday morning, all of us got up early enough to participate in the morning Lauds, a time of worship where we spoke psalms and hymns to each other. Just this simple act gave us a sense of the Spirit active within us. We also worked with Sister Adrian in learning a new form of prayer by making clay pears to hold clay seeds that represented our prayers.

Amid the heat and humidity, the 14 of us brainstormed ideas about the Wednesday Night Vespers service: began planning for stations and themes and thinking about direction and motivation. It was a great time of faith building and getting to know the people that work together every week on the Vespers service. Their hearts for leading people to a closer walk with Christ are apparent in the way they converse and talk about their struggles.

All of these times were wonderful and hold a special place as I got to share them with my brothers and sisters. But as wonderful as they were, the times of solitude were just as dear to me. On the grounds of the monastery, we were able to meditate on the Crucifixion of Jesus through the Stations of the Cross, to sit by a placid pond while reading or praying, and to walk a prayer labyrinth that symbolized life’s journey into faith and then sharing it with others. These were all great experiences that deeply affected me and Sheryl. And in doing them, a truth of the Christian walk became very apparent to me. Christianity is an intensely personal experience that is only properly done in community. A community where people can feel comfortable sharing their victories and failures, where the open hand of forgiveness is offered and the closed fist of judgment is withheld. That’s the kind of environment where transformation can take place.

That’s what we try to offer on Wednesday nights. We hope you can join us and contemplate your place in Christ with brothers and sisters.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Oh My God!

I had this great post about joyful discontent that I might post later.

I'm overwhelmed by all the images from the hurricane this week and the stories that are coming out of New Orleans and the rest of the ravaged areas. I look at all of this and think:

Where are You? What are You thinking here? There are children, babies, dying that would not have died had this storm not come along! Is my idea of You so screwed up that I think You can or would flick Your mighty finger and push the storm off course? Where are You? What are You doing?

Are we to be You? Are we to be Your hands and feet in this? How do so many of us who don't have resources be this? Railing against an act of God feels useless and futile because many times I wonder if You respond! I feel guilty about worrying about $4 a gallon gas, but I do worry about it.

But I so much want to wake up from this nightmare. And I want to do something. And I want You to do something. I want You to act miraculously! I want You to wake up and smell the suffering, smell the stench, smell the death.

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