Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Wed. 04.26

Today's discussion centered around chapters 5-7 of NT Wright's Jesus and the Victory of God. Timmy B, Kenji, Eric, Ted, and myself started talking during the break, and I found myself wishing out loud that we'd been able to video that conversation and start the discussion on that note. Turns out that wasn't necessary, as the presentation soon became a conversation, first amongst ourselves, and then moving to a class-wide forum, with helpful guiding questions from Ryan.

As our time together drew to a close, a number of people reflected upon the difficulty of following Jesus, and stories of failure to live up to our ideals surfaced. I was reminded of Hans Kung's statement that the church lives between the two extremes of sectarianism and syncretism, either ignoring (or flipping off) the surrounding culture or becoming so like it that it is indistinguishable. The Judaisms of the day were not very different, and could be charted between these extremes, rather than being salt and light (BTW - never thought about Isaiah 43:6/49:6 as background for that statement before today...Tom Wright has that thought-stimulating effect). In between, we live in the tension, with the marching directive 'follow me.' That's really difficult...but worth going for.

Many christians in the bible belt (where i first encountered god) cited verses like John 14:6 and Matthew 7:13-14 in an exclusionary fashion, using them to rationalize narrow-mindedness along the lines of 'if you're not with us, you're going to hell.' The peer pressure that was exerted in certain circles was pretty cruel, and, I'd now argue, contrary to the spirit of Christ. Yet as was reiterated today, Jesus didn't hide the challenges of discipleship from those who encountered him. He challenged his hearers to a new way of life, counter to the prominent options of his day. Among those options taken by first-century Jews: armed insurgence against the occupying Romans, which turned out pretty nastily each time it was attempted.

Jesus' "follow me" is the rubric through which I now read the words "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate, and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."

The road isn't easy to walk, nor will it be the most popular, but it leads to life.

Maybe this text can be preached after all...

Tues. 04.25

What stuck with me after class today was the combination of several elements of modern society, namely commodification and spectatorship, with homogenization a loosely related correlate. The impact upon the church has been one of great magnitude, and I wrote 'damn it, damn it, damn it!' in my notes on commodification.

Here's what's been brewing since then. People in modern societies have been largely socialized to become spectators. One of the biggest challenges in the conversion of traditional church structures to kingdom communities is that of reprogramming this instinctual reaction to 'count on the professionals' and become passive receptors.

I see two primary types of spectators in the church. While the two types may look very similar during a large worship gathering, the differences primarily become visible in the aftermath, in their interactions with other persons.

Some people are socialized to believe that they have the right to demand certain things from the 'professionals,' and tend to be come hypercritical consumers of religious goods and services. Entitlement is the term I'd use. In an economy of grace, there's no room for entitlement, and I'm prone to flipping these guys the bird and telling them to go to hell.
However, treating everyone who appears to be a spectator in this fashion is a terrible mistake (although it may be one that only I am ‘super’ prone to); while it's the natural assumption when looking at a culture defined by its center, it's not the whole story.

The second type of spectator is much different, with different roots beneath their spectatorship. These people have come to believe that they have nothing worth contributing. Their offerings are at best subpar, and at worst unwelcome, and they tend to perceive themselves in this light. Shame and oppression are the words that come to mind. Tell these people to go to hell? That would crush their spirits even more. What is needed is a restoration of dignity that being made in the image of God affords, and this involves encouragement and affirmation of their voices.

My hunch is that you find out where someone is on the spectrum when you get to know them and spend hours around them. Listen to their language, to their voice, and you may have to draw it out first (an indicator in itself). What do we hear? Arrogance or worthlessness?

The challenge for discernment comes when both sides of spectatorship are found in the same person, and this isn’t as far fetched as it might seem. Educated Americans who are social outcasts, or groups that have been deemed second-class, such as blacks, latinos, and women, very well fit both definitions, and both forms of spectatorship could well show up in the same person within a short timeframe.

Notes to self: PRAY.
wisdom, discernment, gentleness, patience, and clarity of perception considering a person.
Christlikeness in this manner, and look at Jesus' interactions with folks.
Friend of sinners, yet despised by the self-righteous.
Remarkable tenderness with some, fearless in confrontation with others.
Follow me...and the standards of kingdom goodness.
This is daunting stuff.
Cannot be done alone...need for divine involvement, as well as compass of the spirit-guided community of believers.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Starting Blocks

Reluctantly crouched at the starting line
Engines pumping and thumping in time
The green light flashes, the flags go up
Churning and burning, they yearn for the cup...

In other words, our first class meeting is tomorrow.
and this blog is online.