What I Write About

I write about the infinite number of intersections between every day life and the good news of the God who has come to get us.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Dizzying Apologetics

So apologetics is the disciplines of offering an explanation of the Christian faith both to those who already believe and those who do not believe at all. It is not offering an "apology" in the way that we think of it today so much as engaging in thoughtful dialogue about issues of faith.

Cultural apologetics seeks to engage the issues of the time and the culture and discuss how Christian faith might speak to those issues. Today in a round-table type discussion, we engaged in a tour de force of cultural apologetics. What does the Christian story have to say about globalization, economics, the war in Iraq, China, global warming, human trafficking and current issues of Biblical criticism (by the way, Timothy Paul Jones responded to Royale's comments on Bart Ehrman on last Friday's post today if you want to check out some of his thoughts on Ehrman's approach to Biblical criticism)?

What do we do with a world that is asking those questions when so many of our churches are convinced that those things don't matter? What do I do with a Bible-belt culture that is so deeply committed to a "Christian right" political stance that they're often unwilling to seriously consider any other option?

And how in the world can I possibly know enough about all of these things to actually "hold my own" when at any point on any given day on campus I could get asked questions ranging from evolution to Paris Hilton?

Two things that were comforting in this respect: 1. the freedom (indeed, the obligation) to say "I don't know." and 2. The role and necessity of the Christian community, the body, working together to present the comprehensive apologetic. I don't know everything that there is to know about any of these subjects. So I need folks who do. And they're out there: in my church, working in local businesses, teaching on my campus.

It's cool that I am invited to think deeply and engage authentically with my faith in all these various ways. And it's really good to know that I've got a big posse that's got my back.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Live from Mad-town!

I'm in Madison, Wisconsin (a.k.a. InterVarsity Mecca) for a class called "Apologetics and Evangelistic Speaking." The class thus far is fantastic, as nearly all my classes here have been. The gem of today was this from my professor:

"Maybe the reason why Christians in North America are so deeply antagonistic towards one another is because we have no one from the outside antagonizing us. It's hard to hate one another when you're both in jail being beaten for the same faith."

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Following Up


I'm wondering now about all the various shades of excusing, ignoring,forgiving, or fighting. God calls us to forgiveness, but that doesn't mean "putting up" with bad treatment. Yet, that is a part of any relationship. Do closer relationships (like parent, child, spouse, or sibling for example) require absorbing or accepting greater wrong?


Forgiveness doesn't mean that you stay in an emotionally vulnerable place in perpetuity.  In other words, forgiveness is different from excusing but it's also different from being a doormat.

So much of this is about your motives.  You could withdraw emotionally or physically from your family in order to "get back" at them.  Or you could pull back because it's wise,
discerning and faithful.  Some of it, too, is about the end game.  If you pull away to punish or get back at them, that's passive-aggressive and it's sin.  

But if you're pulling away to allow space for healing and forgiveness with the ultimate hope being that you re-connect with them in a healthy way that includes good boundaries but also hopes for genuine relating and
connectedness at some point in the future, then that's a blessing, that's the Spirit.

Bottom line: lacking forgiveness/holding onto bitterness does more damage to you than anyone else.  We do it because we think that it imprisons someone else.  But ultimately it destroys our own souls.  So the goal is always the
same goal of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit: reconciliation through genuine forgiveness, which is freedom.  

The paths that might take might not seem all that clear or understandable: Jesus went to the cross, which was not
particularly conventional by any stretch of the 1st century Jewish or Roman imagination.

What is your "way of the cross?"  It might mean owning your own sin to your mom or other family members.  It might mean confrontation: letting people know specifically ways that you've been harmed or things that have caused you pain, but that needs to be done in order to forgive and be reconciled not just to press charges.  It might mean that you need to pull back but you do so to bless everyone involved, not out of spite or getting even or to make them pay.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Finding our Way Through the Paradox

I'll try to offer some thoughts, know that these are still a little raw and in process--as I parent, I'm learning what it means to deal with my own baggage I'm bringing into this.

Here they are, in no particular order:

1. I think that reflecting on your own family brokenness is crucial to coming to terms with it. I wouldn’t give up on the word "broken" entirely, unless it has too much baggage for you. The truth of the matter is, all parents sin against their kids. Some do so unknowingly or unwittingly, but they all do it. This does, indeed, do damage to the children. To attempt to downplay that damage or excuse it does not actually deal with the problem.

Jesus does not excuse our sin. He forgives it. And he does so at great cost to himself. Forgiving and excusing are not the same thing. And so we are called to this much greater act of forgiveness always, but especially in relation to our families. This means calling sin what it is (sin), looking at it dead in the eye, and then saying, "I forgive you." Which you'll probably have to do two million times before you die, but that's just how much of life is, isn't it? Process. And some things you'll only have to forgive once and other things you'll have to forgive thousands of times. But it's not excusing, it is a real forgiveness.

The chip on your shoulder is removed through the process of genuine forgiveness. Jesus redeems all of humanity and all of our life experiences submitted to the canopy of his grace must ultimately serve to bless us. Including the sin of your parents against you. Including how you've sinned in response by becoming self-righteous and occasionally arrogant towards them. Your submission to the canopy of Jesus' grace most likely starts with calling both you and your parents sin real sin and then beginning the process of asking for forgiveness and extending it ('forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us...or at least as we try to do so!').

2. I agree with you that gratitude is needed in the areas where it is required. But gratitude is a feeling, generally spontaneously generated, in response to something done that we appreciate. It might take some work to get there, but you can at least begin to recognize, as you said, the areas where you were blessed by your parents. But this is not about making a list of "good things" and "bad things" and trying overly-hard to make the "good things" list longer than the bad things so you feel bad about being angry or get over your chip on your shoulder.

3. You're great questions regarding starting your own family: I think that apart from the hope we have in the redemptive power of Christ, no, there is no hope; just endless cycles of repeated sin patterns. But in Christ, we have the power to break those cycles and to genuinely bless our families.

The place where that starts for me is recognizing that I will sin against my kids and being very quick to ask for their forgiveness where I go wrong. My parents actually did this and I'm grateful for it. My wife and I joke that we're starting two savings funds: the college fund and the counseling fund. We know that they'll probably need both! So we try to have good communication with one another about how we're raising our own kids and as they get older, we'll be having that conversation with them as well.

In this case, it's not only a hopeful scenario but a powerful one. We work out the real gospel in real time in our family life every day: sin, asking for forgiveness, receiving forgiveness, reconciliation, the joy of fellowship together that keeps short accounts and walks in and extends grace to one another in radical and in recklessly regular ways.

Monday, June 25, 2007

"Ahh, paradox! That Unsightly Guidepost of Truth."

Last week's posts on Fatherhood prompted an extremely thoughtful student to e-mail me regarding her own process with her family. She has graciously agreed to allow me to post some of our exchange. I think her articulation of her struggles is particularly clear and the questions she struggles with are familiar to many. For the sake of brevity, I'll post my response tomorrow.

Growing up with two parents who were both deeply hurt by their own dysfunctional upbringing I acquired the notion that what my grandparents did to my parents was wrong and deeply evil. I also thought that anything healthy or positive in their lives now was in spite of, not because of, the influence of their parents.

When my own parents separated and the problems in my family began to surface I labeled our family as dysfunctional too. To me that meant that I had been wronged and cheated out of what a child is supposed to have. It also meant that while I should be grateful that my parents weren't as bad and their parents, I had been damaged by their muck.

But, then something you wrote challenged me. You said that all families are dysfunctional in some way or to some degree. The idea that all parents hurt their kids (in other words, learning from yet another angle that nobody's perfect) prompted me to rethink that black and white yardstick I'd been using.

When I'm honest, I realize that my parent's influence has been responsible for shaping my life in many more positive ways than negative ones. If I accept that, then even though my home is not whole, broken isn't an accurate description either. Now, I can't be a miffed kid with a chip on my shoulder; gratitude is the justified response (something I think my mom has been begging me to realize for years).

And yet, my parents have hurt me, and I bear some of the consequences of generations of wrong-doing. Ahh, paradox! That unsightly guidepost of truth.

My question now is what does this mean? If all families are inevitably flawed, then why start one? Is there any hope there? Where is the line between normal disfunction and truly screwing someone up? And is there such a line or is it all shades of grey?

Friday, June 22, 2007

A Celebrity Visit and A P.S.

For those of you who don't check the comments, yesterday Timothy Paul Jones (the author of the book "Misquoting Truth" that I reviewed) stopped by and left a couple comments. One has a link to his web site with some good resources and some helps for folks who would be interested in further study. Check it out if you're interested.

For those readers who ask why Christians always get in such a tizzy and wonder what all the fuss is about regarding Ehrman's work ("why are Christians always so easily threatened?" is a question I get on occasion) let me propose a parable:

Suppose the university of your choice had an environmental studies program. The leading professor in the environmental studies program thought global warming was a complete hoax. She was convinced it was all a sham and she worked hard to publish books and articles that enumerated her reasons as to why.

All well and good, but here's the rub: all the rest of the faculty in the environmental studies department more or less agreed with her. And so, rather than a thoughtful, well-rounded academic experience where students were genuinely invited to weigh the evidence and come to reasonable conclusions, they were inundated with one argument. In fact, the students at the university of your choice often graduated assuming that no one in their right mind could possibly consider global warming an actual threat to the globe that we currently inhabit.

Such is the position we find ourselves in regard to Biblical studies at UNC-Chapel Hill. And so I'm really hoping to circulate this book in such a way that we're inviting anyone who's genuinely interested in evaluating whether or not there is reasonable proof for the Bible's authority and consistency to read for themselves.

It's striking to me that if a university got a professing Muslim to teach on Islam, that would be considered to be a coup. A Jew to teach Jewish studies? Glorious! But a professing Christian to teach on the Bible or church history? Blaphemous. There's no way that they could be "neutral." As if all of life was not a series of faith commitments--be they secular, naturalist, hedonistic, scientific, or religious.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Book Review: "Misquoting Truth"

A seminary professor once said that theologically speaking, "a liberal is just a fundamentalist who has gotten an education." That is, fundamentalism makes air-tight assertions about any number of things but especially about Scripture. They then go to great lengths to work around any apparent discrepancies in the text. The liberal has the exact same standards, they've just realized that those standards can't be met and so they abandon orthodox faith all together.

Such is the case with the reigning UNC Biblical studies professor Bart Ehrman. Ehrman grew up with a fundamentalist faith background and attended Moody Bible Institute. His educational pursuits took him to Princeton where some very rudimentary issues of textual variation (for example an NIV footnote that might read: some early manuscripts omit v. 8) radically shook his faith. If the Bible wasn't 100% air-tight exactly lined up at every minor point (as his fundamentalist background had said), how can it be trusted at all?

Ehrman has proceeded to make a small fortune and a small celebrity of himself as he's developed his radically skeptical approach to the Scriptures into a veritable cottage industry. He's taken studies that heretofore were reserved for the academic elite and made them accessible to the masses. He savors the opportunity to deeply rock the faith (or assure those who dismissed it to begin with) of UNC students who take his New Testament class every spring.

And last year his book, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why sold over 100,000 copies, surprising just about everyone including Ehrman himself.

Into this millieu comes Timothy Paul Jones' voice of sanity: Misquoting Truth: A Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus published by InterVarsity Press. Jones tackles the tough issues that Ehrman rightly raises. But where Ehrman tends to sensationlize and severely over-state the problems, Jones gently and graciously corrects.

Jones presents the reality that thinking Christians have actually considered these problems. It's not a complete shock that there's some variation between ancient manuscripts. And thinking Christians actually have perfectly reasonable reasons for continuing to trust in the cohesion of the Scriptures as we currently have them even in the face of those (mostly infinitely small) variations.

This book is not an academic work, it is written on a more "populist" level. Therefore, it may frustrate some who would prefer more laborious proofs. But for "the common person" who has had doubts about the reliability of the Bible (Christian or not) this book will speak loud and clear.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Necessity of "Father"

It is very popular now among social scientists to produce research that debunks anything resembling the necessity for the nuclear family.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the studies in these types of fields follow trends just like hem lines and pop music. What's cool to say today will be replaced in ten years. Unfortunately for the broader culture, the field of scientific study is considered to be immutable and irrefutable. So the same type of understanding that I have that pictures of me ten years ago will look pretty dumb to my kids ten years from now is not a part of how we process or understand the latest study that's summarized in a Newsweek or Time magazine article.

I have a couple of operating assumptions after working with students for eleven years. One is that their family is dysfunctional to some degree or another, whether it's an intact family or not. And here is definitely where I would agree with the current research findings: screwed up families come in all shapes and sizes: divorced, intact, extended, whatever.

The second assumption is that their family dysfunction plays some role in their personal obstacles and struggles of living joyfully in a life of faith. And the third assumption I have is that the family dysfunction that they've experienced is in large part due to their father: he was physically gone, emotionally detached, physically or emotionally abusive, hyper-controlling, or some combination of any of the above.

In light of this, there's a stream of theological reflection that would have us to do away with calling God "Father." After all, this is just left over from a paternalistic worldview that oppressed women and the word is full of baggage in our modern era. Why hang onto it any longer?

The reason is simple: people need fathers. We just do. We were made to have a good father. Most of us (including my kids) have fathers that fall well short of this need. This is appropriate. God is our Good Father, the only Truly Good Father we could possibly have and that all of us need. And so we must hold onto this intimate, relational name that God has given to us to call him, or else we foolishly throw away the very strong medicine that so many of our souls are aching for.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Father's Day Reflections Grab-Bag

(This post is dedicated to long-time friend and P.L. reader Michelle McClure who last weekly gently protested that my posts had been a little too theological and not enough cute kid stories. -Ed.)

We were in Charlotte last weekend with my familiy and we mistakenly forgot to pack diaper cream. Given our current torturously slow rate of potty-training we figured we better pick some up while we were out doing errands. I ran into the drug store and I stood stock-still in sticker shock: $7 for a tube of diaper cream! What an outrage! I've bought the stuff before, but never as a solo item. So I began to do some mental math: $7/tube, we go through about a tube a month, Davis is 3 years old and 7 months...that's $301 in zinc oxide cream that's been absorbed into his little bottom since he's been born. That's definitely going on his tab...

*With baby #3 due September 6th, we've decided to go ahead and move Davis into Zoe's larger room in order to work through any kinks that may arise (the new baby girl will sleep in Davis' smaller bedroom for a while and then eventually the two girls will share a room). The results have been nothing short of catastrophic. They've been waking up in the middle of the night screaming for no apparent reason. And they've been waking each other up at ungodly hours of the morning. One day last week they were up at 4:30 a.m. for the day. My children are not gifted sleepers, which is a tragedy because both of their parents are. So it was quite appropriate that my Father's Day present today would be a travel mug for coffee; my kids are driving me to drinkin'...

*In order to celebrate Father's Day in an appropriately modern-day fashion, I downloaded my favorite Father-ish song to my Ipod last week: "Just the Two of Us" by Will Smith. I pretty much like anything Will Smith has ever done, with the notable exception of the movie "The Legend of Bagger Vance" which should have done us all a favor by going straight to video with a warning across the front that said "Do not waste two hours of your life on this film."

*Finally, some difficult news for the Kirk home last week. There was a massive recall on millions of Thomas the Tank Engine parts that were made in China and painted with lead paint. One of the recalled items: James, the red engine. Davis' entire life pretty much revolves around Thomas and his friends and James is one of his favorites, someone he waited on for six months until his three-year-old birthday. We've broached the conversation about James needing to go "to the sheds" to get repairs, but six to eight weeks (the approximate promised turn-around time from the company's web site) is like half my little guy's life. We're hoping to get James and a couple of other more minor trains involved in the recall mailed off tomorrow. But if Davis wakes up at 4:30 a.m. and is cranky all day I might decide that I need to hand-deliver James to the factory in Dyersville, Iowa--both for the peace and quiet of a couple days in the car and to save my wife and I the pain of eight weeks of trying to keep Davis consoled while James and friends get disposed of properly and replaced by a version that is slightly less toxic.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Gem of the Week

Got this in an e-mail from my friend Danielle:

I was at a potluck last night, and a friend was recommending churches in the area to another friends who's thinking of going back to church after a hiatus. She was describing one church and talking about how they gave out low-energy light bulbs for earth day. The other friend said he didn't like churches that get involved in politics like that. She responded with, "What's political about caring about the earth and wanting to keep it healthy? Isn't that what we're called to do?"

Perfect point she made. I think sometimes in this highly politically charged society it's really easy to assume everything has a political motive, when really sometimes it's JUST A LIGHTBULB.

Just a lightbulb, indeed.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Behold I'm Making All Things Newbiggin

I'm reading one of my favorite authors for a class that I'm taking at the end of the month. Here's an excerpt from Lesslie Newbiggin's Proper Confidence:

I am writing this book as a missionary who is concerned to commend the truth of the gospel in a culture that [during modernity] has sought for absolute certainty as the ideal of true knowledge but now [in post-modernity] despairs of knowing truth at all, a culture that therefore responds to the Christian story by asking, "But how can we know that it is true?"

The assumption...[of some Christians] is that the gospel can be made acceptable by showing that it does not contravene the requirements of reason as we understand them within the contemporary plausibility structure.

The heart of my argument is that this is a mistaken policy. The story the church is commissioned to tell, if it is true, is bound to call into question any plausibility structure which is founded on other assumptions. The affirmation that the One by whom and through whom and for whom all creation exists is to be identified with a man who was crucified and rose bodily from the dead cannot possibly be accommodated within any plausibility structure except one of which it is the cornerstone. In any other place in the structure it can only be a place of stumbling.

The reasonableness of Christianity will be demonstrated (insofar as it can be) not by adjusting its claims to the requirements of a preexisting structure of thought but by showing how it can provide an alternative foundation for a different structure.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Wisdom of Age

A couple weeks ago I was grappling with Jerry Falwell's legacy (see the May 25th post: Falwell: Friend or Foe?) and someone left a comment that he attributed Falwell's oft-inflammatory (and in my opinion, most annoying) comments to just "being old." I disagreed with that "excuse," Billy Graham is older and is less annoying, but the comment stuck with me.

In a culture that overly-celebrates youth, it's pretty par for the course to dismiss old people as, well, just being old.

But I'm reading Proverbs these days over my bowl of cereal while trying to keep my two kids from killing one another, and the basic biblical assumption as we follow the Lord into old age is NOT that we become more cranky and less relevant. Indeed, it is quite the opposite. Proverbs assumes that as we follow the Lord into old age we become the type of people we were designed to be. That is, we become wise.

This wisdom, then, is to be a fountain of blessing to be shared in community. Both the depth of character and the experiences of age are to be shared by all as a vast resource of guidance and wise decision-making.

Our culture not only idolizes youth, but has been built around the abilities of youth. Using technology that demands a high degree of multi-tasking, for example. And so we have created a culture that builds in obsolescence not only into our technology but also into our people. Old people are increasingly marginalized in the technological society.

I can't help but wonder what kind of prices we pay (and will continue to pay for many years to come) for this way of life.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Preaching to the Choir

I was talking in the fall with a student who had grown up in a Lutheran church but hadn't attended to much spiritual at all in several years.

"You should come to my church," I said, thinking that the liturgical Anglican-style service would be familiar to him.

"What's the name of it?" he asked.

I paused. This wasn't going to go over well: "All Saints," I offered.

He grimaced. "It's been a while since I've been a 'saint.'"

Fast forward several months. I'm in a pre-membership class for my church and the pastor is explaining the origins of the name of the church.

"Anglicanism has a reputation for being very clergy-driven. The launch team wanted to quell those fears and they wanted us to be a member-driven church. That's why they chose the name 'All Saints.'"

Hear me: I'm not hating on my church. Read that twice before you go any further.

This is a good example of Godly, wise, intentional and thoughtful Christian leaders putting something in place that un-intentionally creates barriers to the very people they're trying to reach. They chose a name that spoke to .1% of the population (those that would know anything about Anglicanism and how it's historically been run) but did not address the fears of 99.9% of the population (those that are freaked out by church in general). The name they chose preached to the choir.

Here's why I'm blogging on this: Christian communities do this all the time. Most of us, by the time we get into a place of Christian leadership, have been on the "inside" for so long we forget what it's like to be on the outside. And so we must, must, must cultivate an intentional empathy for those who are outside of our communities that we want to engage thoughtfully with the gospel.

Again, I'm writing to those of you who are student leaders and/or very active members of your church communities: be aware of this type of thing, it goes down all the time in just about every Christian community I've ever been a part of.

Something as small as the church name will not prevent our church from moving forward into mission. They're committed to it in the DNA of the church, for which I'm very grateful. The Lord overcomes all types of barriers to get people to himself, and he can and will overcome this one. But let's not make it any harder on him than we have to, shall we?

Friday, June 08, 2007

Who Do We Serve?

IV at UNC serves a distinct sub-culture of students. Here's some of what they are about:

1. Many students come from the Southern Bible-belt tradition where church-going is about social contacts and generally developing something called "morality." The gospel we've been talking about this week is about waking those students up to this bigger reality: this stuff matters. It is not just "religious wallpaper"--something in the background of life that doesn't really make any difference. It's a story and a movement and a Person big enough to live for...and die for.

2. Many students come from great churches where they've been taught about the priority and value of a personal relationship with Jesus. To those students, we heartily affirm the glory of a personal relationship with the Living God. And we call them to the glorious reality that life as a Jesus-follower is much, much bigger than just you and Jesus. It's about working out his kind of life, love, power, purposes in every corner of the globe. This is a message worth all the world knowing about because it impacts every corner of every culture in every place all over the world.

3. Many students have grown up in some sort of church but have abandoned it for a variety of reasons: hypocrisy, "church trauma," or they were passionate about issues that the church had no category for or didn't seem to care about. To those students, we invite them into the authentic power of reconciliation, restoration, and revolution. Christ's love and power is big enough to heal and bring reconciliation for them and their Christian community baggage. It's also big enough to speak to all the issues of brokenness in the world.

4. And still plenty more students haven't spent any time in the church at all, but they're plenty ticked about issues of justice, poverty, war, race, etc. It's nearly a requirement at UNC that you have to be angry about something in order to get in. To those students, we say that we, too, are passionate about justice. We know and love the spirit of activism that longs to make things right. We know that spirit. That spirit is the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Let us introduce you to the One who longs to make all things right. Let us introduce you to the One who is making all things new.

And so we speak and proclaim that the message of Jesus is about Reconciliation, Restoration, Revolution. This is a message that both captures the heart of what the gospel is all about AND a message that our particular mission field desperately needs to hear.


Joining God’s work of mending broken relationships both between us and God and amongst ourselves


Joining God’s work of bringing healing and wholeness to individuals, society, and its systems


Owning the countercultural nature of Jesus’s message:
that radical transformation is both necessary (because of God’s goodness and our brokenness) and possible (because of God’s power and our redemption), and that this is through Christ alone.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Distinctly Christian Dialogue on Race and Justice

Here's a few thoughts, in no particular order (or at least I don't think so!):

1. Justice is God's idea. Without God, there would be no justice. Anytime justice is enacted, it honors the Lord. Scripture (especially Proverbs) is adamant about this.

2. All people are image-bearers and are to be treated as such.

3. The horror and the gross tragedy of the cross exposes me to be a deeply, deeply screwed up person. Jesus dies for me, a real death for a real sinner. I cannot hide or pretend otherwise and call myself a follower of Christ.

Therefore, when I am in conversation and the possibility is brought up that I am racist or sexist, it is not a shock to me. I must push past my natural instinct to immediately push back. Jesus has already seen fit to call me an adulterer, a murderer and a self-righteous hypocrite (see the Sermon on the Mount) and I call him Lord and Friend. He died for that. There's a good possibility that racism and sexism is at work in my heart, too, and that the Lord is using this conversation to reveal that to me.

If it's there, praise God that it's being exposed so that it might be dealt with! At the very least, if a Christian brother or sister brings something like this to my attention I need to be willing to receive it humbly and go to the Lord with it in prayer. Wisdom is life. One key to wisdom is a teachable heart and a teachable spirit. The Scriptures, (especially Proverbs) are adamant about this, too.

4. Since all people have this sin problem, no one is ever given a blank check to do or to say anything they want. Minorities and/or women will be held responsible by the Lord for what is said in these types of conversations, just as white males will be. In the Christian community, we have an obligation to "submit to one another" and to speak the truth in love. We are often more likely to act sinfully when we are right. Beware of me when I'm right. Beware of you when you're right. Pain is also a powerful and angry motivator. When both of those pieces are present and at work in a specific situation, we need to be especially careful.

We can be sinned against and then sin in response. We must be aware of this.

5. Reconciliation is already done in Christ. Christian dialogue about justice and race is done in the context of a finished story, something that has already been accomplished in Christ. The final chapter has already been written. We are not trying to create something from scratch, we are simply moving in the power of the Spirit to bring about the realization of something that we'll fully experience when all things have reached the end.

Our hope, therefore, is not in people's good intentions (Lord, save us!) but in the inexorable coming Kingdom. It is our destiny as God's people to be reconciled. Ephesians makes clear that our work is simply to take the small steps of our time, in our generation, to bring this reality into our experience. And it's this power that will bring about genuine change.

Just some initial sketches...my guess is that my astute readers will notice gaps right away, perhaps other planks that form the platform of a distinctly Christian dialogue on race and justice. Fire away!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Sex Filter, Justice and Race Filter

I was moving into my dorm room freshmen year. I was nervous. My parents were anxious. My R.A. was trying to talk to me about dorm life, specifically some of the conservation efforts they were implementing.

"And you know, to conserve water you can always shower with a friend," he said fairly casually.

"YOU BETTER NOT!" jumped in my anxious mom.

"I know, mom, I know," I said.

And I did. By the time I left for college at age 18 I clearly understood the differences in how the culture around me talked about sexuality and sexual conduct and what the expectations were from the Scriptures. I had been fully indoctrinated in a sexual ethic that, I think, genuinely blessed me, the women I dated in college, and ultimately my wife and kids. I managed to get out of college having taken only solo showers. Too bad for the environment, good for me.

"When we talk about issues of justice or race in my classes or in the media, it feels like black people or women can say just about anything they want and as a white man I just have to sort of take it. That's one reason why it's hard for me to get excited about dealing with this in IV."

I had this conversation with a number of men this past year on campus. And what I think is crucial here is that there is not a parallel understanding of issues of justice and race from a distinctly Christian viewpoint as there is regarding issues of sexuality. There is no de facto understanding that when Christians talk about race or justice, it's on different terms with different rules.

I grew very adept at running issues regarding sexuality from the secular media and the classroom dialogue through a distinctly Christian filter. There is no such filter for issues of race and justice. This is in part because historically, conservative Christians have not placed the same emphasis on issues of race and justice as they have regarding issues of sexuality.

Given the sheer number of Scriptures regarding issues of justice and ethnicity in proportion to the numbers regarding sexual conduct, to say that this is a gross oversight would be a serious understatement. It would be no exaggeration to say that justice verses outnumber issues dealing with sexuality as much as 50 to 1.

I'm not saying that the work done understanding healthy sexuality is not important. I'm very grateful for how that work blessed me through high school, college, and post-college into marriage.

I'm simply saying that we need to expend at least that much energy on justice and race so that we might be able to approach them with a fully "Christian" understanding of what we're talking about...including the ability to see how secular v. Biblical approaches have some overlap and some critically wonderful differences.

I'll post a few thoughts on what that might look like tomorrow...

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Caring for our Own Community v. Being a Movement

Christian communities are called to be movements, not monuments. We are called to be set-out people, to be on mission is what we are about.

The most common objection to mission that I get is on the grounds of taking care of our community. This conversation creates a false dichotomy. In the Kingdom of God, there is absolutely zero conflict between building community and being on mission. They are not at odds with one another. They are not conflicting values.

Community and mission do not cut against one another, they bless one another and keep each one holy. Community blesses mission in that God does not call us to be Lone Rangers trying to save the world and fight every possible battle on our own. Mission blesses community in that it keeps community from growing stale, stagnant, in-bred, unhealthy, cut-off, clique-ish, gross.

And of course the best picture we have in this is Jesus and his disciples. Jesus was on mission. He moved. His whole ministry was itinerant. He traveled, he taught, he healed, and he brought his disciples with him. The default posture of the community of Jesus and his disciples was movement.

And of course there were times when Jesus pulled away with his disciples, taught just his disciples or cared for them in some other way. This is critical as well.

But it is instructive that these times of pulling away were the notable times. Jesus and his disciples generally interacted with people outside of their immediate community with occasional retreats to be together. In most of our Christian communities the rhythms of ministry are completely the opposite. Our standard operating procedure is internal care, with a few notable attempts at reaching out.

All our natural inertia and tendency is internal, towards our own communities. It takes a disproportionate amount of "pulling" to get us to face outward. And so that is what we will do.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Reconciliation, Restoration, Revolution

One of the things that happened at Rockbridge was that the Coordinating Team (the core group of 5-8 student leaders) set the vision and goals for the coming year. This year's team decided to keep the previous vision statement: Reconciliation, Restoration, Revolution. Here's how they defined it:

What we’re about:

Joining God’s work of mending broken relationships both between us and God and
amongst ourselves

Joining God’s work of bringing healing and wholeness to individuals, society, and its systems

Owning the countercultural nature of Jesus’s message: that radical transformation is both necessary (because of God’s goodness and our brokenness) and possible (because of God’s power and our redemption), and that this is through Christ alone.

I was encouraged by how they hammered out these definitions and by how excellently this "fit" the UNC culture. Some of their practical ideas: partnering on campus with service projects, hosting more Thursday night large group meetings that were intentionally evangelistic, developing the "white ribbon campaign" that we picked up this year as an awareness event about violence against women, and continuing to push forward in multi-ethnicity.

What was interesting to me was how un-excited many of my students were. There was definitely an under-current of "push back" on this.

The complaints that I received were two-fold: 1. that we were ignoring our own community in our focus outward and 2. that the ways that this was worked out this past year perpetuated a social-change agenda that students (particularly white males) feel beat up with on a regular basis on campus.

What I want to do over this next week is to hammer out some answers to these and other objections. I want to do this for two reasons: 1. because I know that at least some of my students read this and 2. because my hope and prayer is that all our churches will become missional, outward focusing communities and that those who read this blog will be agents of change where they are. I think that all believers need to be "in" on the priority of facing outward and that being agents of social change as well as evangelism is a part of that.

Friday, June 01, 2007

People-Pleasing Bites Back

I was talking with a pastor friend of mine about how servant leadership is not people-pleasing (the talk sound byte I posted the other day) and my own struggles to keep those clear and separate. He told me that many years ago he was going through a tough season of ministry where he was getting a lot of flack from folks in his congregation. At one point he took stock and he realized that he didn't like his congregation. In fact, he considered them the enemy.

It was tempting to place the blame squarely on them. After all, they were the difficult ones. But he realized that the root of his deep-seated angst was not the people. It was him. He was a people-pleaser and this congregation was impossible to please--it was impossible to please several hundred people all at the same time. And so he was exhausted. And he no longer loved or served the people he had been called to love and serve. They were the enemy.

What had begun with all the best intentions and sounded good at the outset ("I just want to care for people and make sure they're happy!") actually ended up doing severe damage to his ability to genuinely care for folks.

It struck me that this is how idolotary always is. C.S. Lewis talked about putting first things first. When we put first things first, we get second things thrown in. When we put second things first, we lose both first and second things. This pastor's story was a classic example of putting second things first and losing all of it.

The response, then, is not over-reaction to dismissing people or hardening of hearts (as tempting as this is for me sometimes...why is it that we are always so prone to over-correction from past mistakes!) but to a right engagement with them. This up-right relating is neither manipulative or dismissive or over-eager to please. People are image-bearers. We are to treat one another as no more (not 'gods' but image-beares) and no less (Lewis again: "there are no ordinary people") than that.

It seems to me that much of the history of the world, littered with exploitations and abominations, derives from falling off the wrong side of this equasion on one side or the other.