CM – Sermon Epiphany IV — Walking in Christ (Eph 4:1-7)

A Child Being Taught to Walk. Rembrandt

SERMON: Epiphany IV – Walking in Christ
Ephesians 4:1-7

The Lord be with you.

Let’s begin with a review. In approaching Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, I have encouraged us to follow observations from a devotional book I read long ago. Its author suggested that Ephesians shows us three postures that the one who trusts Jesus takes in his or her life.

  • First, we SIT. That is, we learn to rest in the salvation blessings that Christ has given us because of his work on our behalf and our union with him by grace through faith.
  • Second, we WALK. That is, dying to sin, we rise with Christ to live in newness of life.
  • Third, we STAND. That is, we resist and oppose the powers that threaten to keep us from resting in Christ and walking in Christ, the powers of sin and evil that promote chaos and destruction in our lives and in the world.

Roughly speaking, the first three chapters of Paul’s letter encourage us to sit, to meditate on the fact that God “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing.” Now, beginning in chapter 4, we transition to the second posture. Paul writes, “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life [WALK] worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”

It’s time to learn to walk.

Let me repeat what I said in my introductory message about walking in Christ:

The life of a believer is a life through which we MOVE. It is an active life, a life that does not sit still. Receiving God’s grace, we practice acts of gratitude. Faith flows forth in faithfulness. Having received God’s love, we show love to others. When we rest in Christ by sitting with him and drawing upon all the blessings of our salvation, we gain energy to get up and go out to give our lives for the life of the world.

In walking, we walk with Jesus. We walk with each other. We walk with our neighbors. We walk in love. We walk in kindness. We walk, as Jesus did, among all kinds of people and seek to bless them in ways that will enrich our lives together with God’s shalom.

Humans are born with the instinct to walk. When babies are just a few weeks old, you can hold them up and they will push their legs down against a hard surface. Then, at about five months, you can balance your baby on your legs and they will bounce up and down. Their little legs are getting stronger, but they still don’t have the balance to stand or move about by themselves. Around the eight-month mark, the baby may pull herself up on furniture and start cruising around while hanging on for support.

From there, it’s a matter of learning to let go, to bend the knees, to squat and sit down, to take steps while holding a hand, and eventually to let go and motor about on their own. Most babies are doing this by around 13 months, though some take awhile longer. And from then on, it’s a whole new world — as the little one begins moving through life as a biped, upright, head erect, following the yellow brick road on life’s journey.

So, the first thing about walking is that we need to LEARN to do it. The instinct is natural, but developing the ability to walk is a process. That’s why Paul gives instruction to the Ephesians here, beginning in chapter four. The Christian’s life is one of growth and progress, of falling down and getting up again, of grabbing on to someone or something for support when we can’t get our balance, of learning how to navigate difficult terrain, of avoiding places where it’s too dangerous to walk. We must learn to walk.

Another thing about walking is that we walk TOGETHER. When Paul talks here about walking as followers of Jesus, he uses words like “humility,” “gentleness,” “patience,” “putting up with one another,” maintaining “unity,” living in “peace.” We’re not contemplating the journey of a lone traveler here. Christians walk together. We are a family. We are a congregation. We are a body of believers. Later in this passage he points to the things we all share: one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one hope, one calling, one God who has brought us all together in Christ.

This is where things get challenging, because we have our differences, don’t we? We come from different places, different backgrounds; we see and do things differently. We may not appreciate this about other people. We may not even like each other. We may have prejudices toward those with different ethnic backgrounds, skin color, different orientations or affiliations. I may have a more conservative mindset, while you are more progressive. Some of us have had experiences which forever changed our view of life, and it’s hard for others to understand that. Is it any wonder that Paul has to encourage us here to be patient, gentle, and forbearing with one another?

Evolutionary scientists tell us that one of the reasons humans developed the ability to walk upright was because it freed their arms up to carry things, which became necessary when our ancestors transitioned from living in trees to moving across the land.

One of my favorite sports stories of all time comes from an incident that took place in a college softball game between Central Washington and Western Oregon in April, 2008. Sara Tucholsky, a senior for Western Oregon, stepped up to the plate with two runners on base and did something she had never done before. She smacked one over the fence. Her first home run ever. Tucholsky was so excited that she missed first base. Turning back to touch the bag, her right knee buckled, and she fell. In tears she crawled back to 1st base.

What could she do? She was unable to walk. The umpire let the coach know that if she could not proceed any further, the other two runners who scored would be counted, but she would only be credited with a single.

Then Mallory Holtman, Central Washington’s first baseman, asked, “Excuse me, would it be OK if we carried her around and she touched each bag?” The umpires huddled and ruled that the opposing team could do that within the rules. So Holtman and a teammate picked up the injured Tucholsky and carried her around the bases. They lowered her to touch second, third, and finally home. As both teams and fans brushed back tears, Sara Tucholsky celebrated her first home run, carried in the arms of her opponents.

Even when we find ourselves on opposing sides, we are one in Christ. We walk together, and sometimes we even sacrifice our own benefit to carry each other along the way.

May the Word of Christ dwell in us richly in all wisdom. Amen.

CM – The IM Saturday Monks Brunch: February 1, 2020

The IM Saturday Monks Brunch: February 1, 2020

A picture’s worth a thousand words…

The Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, located at the Haleakala Observatory on the island of Maui, Hawaii, recently released its first images of the Sun’s surface. It shows turbulent plasma arranged in a pattern of cell-like structures that indicate violent motions which transport hot solar plasma from the interior of the Sun to the surface. This process, known as convection, sees this bright plasma rise to the surface in cells, where it then cools and sinks below the surface in dark lanes.

A newly documented form of the northern lights, nicknamed ‘the dunes,’ has been discovered by scientists and stargazers in Finland. (Kari Saari)

This year, Holocaust Memorial Day coincided with the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, in Nazi-occupied Poland. Set up in 1940, Auschwitz was initially intended to house Polish political prisoners, but it became the largest of the Nazis’ extermination camps, where Adolf Hitler’s “Final Solution” was put in to practice. More than 200 survivors visited the memorial for this year’s anniversary.

Dumbo rats are displayed ahead of Lunar New Year celebrations at the Singapore Zoo’s Rainforest KidzWorld in Singapore on Tuesday, January 21. 2020 marks the year of the rat. (Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images)
A performer blows fire during Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations in Chinatown, Binondo, Manila, Philippines, January 25, 2020. (REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez)
Members of the Chinese community dance at the Eiffel Tower in Paris on January 25. (Michel Euler/AP)


Members of the Movistar Estudiantes basketball club pay homage to the late basketball star Kobe Bryant in Madrid, Spain, January 30, 2020. The 41 year-old Bryant, one of professional basketball’s greatest players of all time, died Sunday in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, along with his 13-year old daughter Gianna. .(REUTERS/Susana Vera)

According to the requirements for the prevention and control of pneumonia caused by the new coronavirus, Harbin Ice and snow world was closed, Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, China, January 30, 2020. (Costfoto/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
Chinese tourists wearing protective masks pray at the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok, Thailand. The World Health Organisation declared a global health emergency over the outbreak of coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China. At least 213 people in China have died from the virus, with almost 10,000 cases nationally. (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)
Excavators at the site of a new hospital being built to treat patients against the coronavirus in Wuhan, China, on Jan. 24. China is rushing to build the facility in a staggering 10 days to treat patients at the epicenter of the deadly coronavirus outbreak.

A girl tries to chase away locusts from her family’s farm in Katitika village, Kenya, on Jan. 24. Desert locusts have swarmed into Kenya by the hundreds of millions from Somalia and Ethiopia, destroying farmland and threatening an already vulnerable region.

A Brexit supporter is decked out in London on Friday, hours before the U.K. was to leave the European Union. More than 3 1/2 years after the referendum that approved Brexit, Britain is parting ways with the 27 remaining members of the European bloc. (Alastair Grant/AP)

A fire in Namadgi National Park threatens rural communities south of Canberra. From our IM friend Susan: “A State of Emergency has been declared for our Australian Capitol, Canberra. Conditions expected to deteriorate over the next two days. Summer is far from over.”

It’s time again for the Big Game!

Commercial preview…

From Marketwatch

On my winter playlist…

I awoke today and found the frost perched on the town
It hovered in a frozen sky, then it gobbled summer down
When the sun turns traitor cold
And all trees are shivering in a naked row
I get the urge for going but I never seem to go

Songwriter: Joni Mitchell

CM: and this is faith?

Agony. Arshile Gorky

and this is faith?
and this is life?
scared spitless, all alone
my earthly goods, my loves sent away
anticipating an attack
reaping what i’ve sown
the wrath of esau
i feel like throwing up
pulling the covers over my head

but suddenly i’m wrestling
writhing, grunting, falling,
scraping my elbow, twisting
the sound of sickly tearing
of tendon from bone
a flood of pain
i bite my cheek, spit blood
i squeeze out tears
i grimace and groan
the back of my head thuds
on unforgiving ground

and the power that overwhelms me
cries uncle

i rise

limping i walk
dying i live
losing i prevail
from jacob to israel
by clinging in defeat
to one i conquer

Rob Grayson reviews “That All Shall Be Saved”

I’ve begun to wade into David Bentley Hart’s strident but powerfully argued book, That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation. But I’m not ready to write my response yet. I have been reading other reviews, however, and thought I would share one of them today.

Rob Grayson has written for us before, and he blogs regularly at Faith Meets World. I appreciate Rob allowing us to re-post this review.

• • •

Book review: That All Shall Be Saved by David Bentley Hart
by Rob Grayson

In the years-long process of reconfiguring my theology from rigid, evangelical dogmatism to something much richer, deeper, truer and more life-giving, one of the last changes I publicly acknowledged was the abandonment of the idea of a hell of eternal torment. (The piece I wrote when I finally, publicly let go of that abhorrent notion is here.) If I left it late to publicly nail my colours to the mast on the question of hell, it was partly because I hadn’t spent much time and effort digging into the topic, and partly because the existence of a hellish alternative to paradise is such a foundational component of evangelical dogma that I was wary of the backlash such a public disavowal might provoke. (In the event, it didn’t provoke much of a backlash at all – probably because anyone who might have called for my burning at the stake either simply didn’t notice or had already written me off as a heretic long before.)

I say all of that to say this: had David Bentley Hart’s new book That All Shall Be Saved been available for me to read a decade or so ago, I would probably have dispensed with the abhorrent notion of a hell of eternal torment much sooner than I did – and, having read the book, I would have been able to do so with a fair amount of confidence.

For those not familiar with David Bentley Hart, he is an Eastern Orthodox scholar of religion and a prolific writer, philosopher and cultural commentator. The “Eastern Orthodox” part of those credentials is important, because it means Hart’s theology and philosophy is rooted in the thought and writings of the Church Fathers, relatively untainted by later layers of (mis)interpretation and obfuscation.

In a nutshell, what Hart has tried to do in this book is to set out, once and for all, a convincing case against the notion that there is a hell of eternal torment for which unrepentant sinners are bound. (I say “once and for all” because Hart himself says he intends his exposition on the matter in this book to be “more or less the last”.) And, like my friend Brad Jersak, who is orders of magnitude more learned than I (you can read Brad’s review here), I conclude that Hart’s argument is convincing almost to the point of being irrefutable. At this point, I can’t imagine a more convincing case for the non-existence – or, more accurately, the utter theological and philosophical incongruity – of hell ever being published.

Hart’s case against hell is basically two-pronged. The first prong is essentially theological: the idea of a hell of eternal torment simply cannot be reconciled with the foundational principle that God is good and loving – at least, not without doing violence to the meaning of the words good and loving to the point where they are emptied of any real meaning. Part and parcel of this prong is the argument that, however grievous in scope and malice a person’s sins might be (think Hitler or Stalin), eternal torment could only ever be an entirely disproportionate response – not to mention a wholly ineffectual one, since its end could only ever be retributive rather than restorative.

The second prong of Hart’s argument is essentially philosophical in nature. He notes that the least repugnant, most meritorious argument for a hell of eternal torment rests on the idea that God has created humans with free will, and that, having done so, if a human should exercise that God-given free will for the purpose of forever rejecting God and choosing instead to be eternally consigned to hellfire and damnation, well then, who are we – and who is God – to argue? Having clearly articulated this free-will-based pro-hell argument, Hart goes on to demolish it with ease. Aside from the fact that our free will is, in reality, not so free after all, his main contention is that no moral agent who is even moderately free could or would eternally choose unending suffering over unending bliss. To do so would not only be illogical, it would be a violation of the very impulse that underlies and motivates our every decision and action – namely, the quest for the Good.

Of course, Hart deploys these arguments in much greater detail and depth than I have done here – and, I dare say, with immeasurably greater force. Indeed, his style is never less than forceful, and at times he could fairly be accused of being acerbic and even dismissively high-minded. But his prose is also marked by passages of exquisite, soul-stirring beauty, never more so than in those passages where he invites us to consider and imagine the eternal hope he believes God offers to every member of the human family.

A word of caution: Hart’s work is not and never will be “light reading”. If you’ve read him before, you’ll know that he can easily toss out ten words you’ve never come across without  breaking a sweat. Also, in his philosophical argumentation he tends to assume a certain basic level of familiarity with classical metaphysics that many readers less erudite than him (which, let’s face it, means the vast majority of us) will not possess. Let me reassure you, though: as long as you’re not expecting a light bedtime read, you shouldn’t let these words of caution put you off. After all, previously unknown and/or arcane words can easily be looked up in a dictionary, and in any event are rarely so vital to the case being made that their basic meaning cannot be at least roughly inferred from the context. And, in all of the book’s 214 pages, only in one short passage a few pages long did I find myself somewhat out of my philosophical depth and wishing I had a better grasp of classical philosophy and metaphysics. In the end, books that dumb everything down so that they can be absorbed with very little effort might be easy to read, but they are rarely edifying or even interesting; by contrast, reading a book that assumes you’re intelligent and inquiring, and that forces you to contend and wrestle rather than simply swallowing and acquiescing, is intellectually and spiritually a far more rewarding experience.

I began this review by referring to the process of my theological reconfiguration, so it seems fitting to conclude it in a similar vein.

Way back in 2008, I made my first foray into the writings of one Nicholas Thomas (N.T.) Wright when I read his book Surprised by Hope. I wasn’t particularly looking for answers to specific questions: I’d stumbled across Wright’s name on the interwebs and was simply looking to sate my growing theological appetite. The whole book is well worth reading, but one chapter in particular forever changed my theological trajectory: in a few short pages, Wright casually and comprehensively demolished the notion of the “rapture” – a cherished evangelical doctrine according to which, at Christ’s second coming, the faithful will be taken up to heaven while the unbelieving are left to suffer years of tribulation on an increasingly hellish earth. The effect was immediate and startling: if a doctrine I had so long taken for granted, and which was considered almost unquestionable in the evangelical circles in which I had moved, could be done away with so easily and so convincingly, which other of my precious evangelical certainties might prove to have been built on less than robust foundations? So began a journey of questioning and study that would end up overhauling and revitalising every aspect of my theology, from my doctrine of God and my Christology to my understanding of atonement, sin, repentance, salvation, and so on.

Beyond that first venture into Wright’s voluminous output (which I continue to explore), only one other theological book have I read that I have found so arresting and compelling. That book is, of course, That All Shall Be Saved. It is a book that has the potential to stop you in your theological tracks and reorient you in a fuller, more hope-filled, more inclusive direction. Of course, having read it, you may choose to disagree with Hart’s conclusions; but you will not be able to do so without serious thought and effort, and you will never again be able to dismiss the non-existence of hell as either heretical or theologically incoherent.

[That All Shall Be Saved is published by Yale University Press. I was kindly provided with a review copy by the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.]

CM: A vision of life

Important words from Jake Meador at Mere Orthodoxy

Refuge (2020)

[T]he goal of the pro-life movement is not simply that Roe would be overturned but that ours would be a society friendly to life. As long as our laws allow for the killing of the unborn we cannot claim to be such a society. But the erasure of such laws will not, in itself, absolve us of the charge of being a society that is deeply inhumane and hostile to life. Justice is not appeased simply through the changing of civil law; it is appeased when we render to each what they are due. It is achieved, in other words, through repentance, through the acknowledging that we do not render to each what they are due and through a resolution to amend our ways so that we would do that.

And this is what makes the embrace of Trump as a pro-life champion so damaging to the movement: It substitutes politique for mystique and in so doing it diminishes the goals of the pro-life movement, reducing them from the lofty and inspiring ideal of creating a society hospitable to life down to simply overturning a badly argued Supreme Court ruling. And by reducing the ideal in this way it actually drains the life from the pro-life movement, rendering it equivalent to any other political advocacy group whose sole objective is narrowly political in nature.

At its best, the pro-life cause promotes not a particular political agenda item, but a comprehensive way of being in the world, a posture toward reality that is welcoming and exuberant, a vision of life that contradicts on every level the culture of death that has been ascendant in the west for the past century.

• From The Mystique of the Pro-Life Movement

CM – Music Monday: Hymn for the 81%

Hymn for the 81%
By Daniel Deitrich

About this song, Daniel Deitrich writes:

In 2016, 81% of white evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump after (among other things) hearing an audio recording of him bragging about sexually assaulting women.

Maya Angelou famously said, “when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

In the years since, even after enacting deliberately cruel policies to rip families apart and put children in cages at the southern border, evangelical support is as fervent as ever.

I was raised in the Evangelical world. It shaped me. I learned to take the words of Jesus seriously – love God, love your neighbor, feed the hungry, fight for justice for the oppressed. I thought that things like love, kindness, gentleness, and self-control MATTERED. I have been so confused and deeply saddened by the unflinching loyalty to a man who so clearly embodies the opposite of these values.

This song is a lament. It’s a loving rebuke. It’s a plea for the 81%, to come home to the way of Jesus.

You can read more about this song and its composer HERE and HERE.

CM – Sermon Epiphany III: How to Pray for Our Friends in Christ

Tuscan Chapel (2019)

Sermon: Epiphany III – How to Pray for Our Friends in Christ

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-20)

• • •

The Lord be with you.

Few things are more human than the urge to pray. If we have sense, we human beings recognize our limited ability to make things happen, to extricate ourselves from the dilemmas we find ourselves in, or to fix what is broken in ourselves and in the world. And so, our hearts cry out.

  • Sometimes in our hearts we feel that we are lost and without direction. And so we cry out for wisdom, for guidance, for a way out of the wilderness.
  • Sometimes in our hearts we feel small and weak. And so we cry out for strength.
  • There are times when we feel frustrated and angry. And so we cry out “Why?” and we protest and complain and demand justice. Sometimes in our anger we curse, and little do we know it, but we are praying.
  • When we get ill or find ourselves in frightening or discouraging places with regard to our health and well being, we cry out for healing, for restoration and recovery, for comfort and wholeness in our bodies and minds.
  • Sometimes we get sad. We lose someone we love. The weight of the world and our worries presses down on us and we stumble beneath burdens too heavy for us to bear. We cry out for relief, for someone to hold us and reassure us that we are not alone and that all will be well.
  • There are pleasant times when we feel deep joy in living, when all is right, bright and happy in our world. In those seasons our hearts cry out with a spirit of contentment, gratitude, and praise.
  • When we think of those we love, we find that our hearts are always crying out for them — for their health and well being, that they will be established and successful in life, that they will be happy, secure, and well taken care of.

We are human, therefore we pray. We may not always voice these heart-cries in times of formal prayer. More often, these prayers are just part of the way we think and feel and breathe and act each day.

Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians is filled with prayers. In fact, a case can be made that the entire first three chapters of this letter is written in various forms of prayer. He begins by blessing God for all his blessings, and then just keeps meditating on all those blessings, pausing along the way to pray for his friends in Ephesus that they will be able to grasp and appropriate them in their hearts, minds, and lives.

Chapter three ends with one of these prayers, the one I read just a few minutes ago. It is a wonderful example of how to pray for each other as friends in Christ.

Notice first how Paul prays that his friends may be filled with strength in the inner person by the power of the Holy Spirit. Now there’s a prayer we all need. Paul doesn’t focus on the circumstances the believers in Ephesus are facing on the outside, but rather prays that God will help them on the inside, no matter what they’re going through.

That’s where we need God’s help most of all too, isn’t it — on the inside. You know, in that secret place where you lack self-confidence, where you feel weak or ill-equipped to handle the demands of life. The inside, where you may be still reeling from some trauma you have experienced that keeps you anxious and afraid. The inside, where you regret some bad choices you’ve made and you feel guilt and shame that’s hard to shake. The inside, that part of you that you want to hide and not reveal to anyone else. Paul prays that God’s Spirit will strengthen us with divine power right there, right where we all need it most when life’s relentless issues and challenges rise up.

And then Paul prays that his friends may be filled with God’s love, as Christ makes his home in their hearts. He prays that they will be rooted and grounded in love — that love will be the source and the foundation of everything they think, say, and do. And he prays that God will fill them up with the kind of love that is so vast, so rich, so profound that it’s really beyond understanding or description.

Paul puts his finger right on what we really need, right? Strength and love.

Strength to bear up under pressure and the trials and temptations that accost us. Strength to persevere, to keep pressing on through the various seasons and circumstances of life with all their challenges and complexities. God’s strength, to carry us in our weakness, to sustain us when we get weary, to empower us to follow the path of Christ.

And love. Love to embrace life as God’s gift and to relish it. Love to devote ourselves to the lifestyle of Christ — serving our families, our neighbors, our communities, our world. God’s love, to overcome our laziness, our selfishness, our prejudices, and our pride.

I hope you will pray this way for me. And I will try my best to always pray this way for you. Strength and love. Love and strength. It all comes from Christ dwelling in our hearts through faith. So let’s pray for each other that Christ may fill us and bless us each day.

May the Word of Christ dwell in us richly in all wisdom. Amen.

CM – The IM Saturday Monks Brunch: January 25, 2020 — Profound Thoughts Edition

Moon Over the Heartland (2020)

The IM Saturday Monks Brunch: January 25, 2020
Profound Thoughts Edition

Before we pass on a few profound (and not-so profound) thoughts over the Brunch table today, allow me to share a link to a truly profound conversation between “eco-theologian” Michael Dowd and our own Damaris Zehner. Dowd blogs at Post-doom and you can find his interview with Damaris on YouTube HERE or by clicking on the image below. You’ll get a great overview of Damaris’s career and background, and the kind of life she is most interested in practicing and writing about. You can follow her observations and reflections regularly at Integrity of Life. And we will keep the link to the Post-doom interview up on the IM Bulletin Board so that you can continue to access it easily.

Here are a few of Damaris’s profound thoughts that she expresses in the interview:

Mostly, we live daily. Nonetheless, what a good culture would do is to set up our daily lives with the future in mind. So, whether we’re thinking about it or not, whether we are aiming for something specific or not, we are living in such a way that there is something in the future for our children, grandchildren, and for all life on earth.

And if I were to choose a single Bible verse that I think works both spiritually and practically to every audience, it’s Micah 6:8, which is “love justice, do mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” And I really think that that covers it — whether we are talking about how we handle the environment and other species, how we deal with the economy, how we deal with other people, and how we prepare for the future. If we’re living humbly now, we won’t use up what other people will need in the future. If we’re thinking of justice and mercy, we will be considering the whole world around us.

If we are doing that, it goes back to what you were talking about, which is the sense of gratitude. When we’re not front and center, grabbing and shoving out of fear, then we can just sit back and go, “This is a nice world. We like it here. Let’s stay.”

Never again…

This week marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Here are some poignant thoughts expressed about remembering the Holocaust.

But one thing I took from this was a big fear I’ve now got about people of absolute faith. I always thought faith of itself was – could only be a positive thing. Everyone talks about the importance of having faith. Well, these guys had faith, absolute faith. And there’s one really desperately upsetting…ideologically, there’s one desperately particularly upsetting moment where – in the book – where I talk about how Himmler and Hoss most admired, as prisoners, Jehovah’s Witnesses. They pointed to them and said, see that faith? That’s the kind of faith we need in our führer – absolute, unshakable faith. (from an interview with Laurence Rees, Auschwitz: A New History)

Today, you have a young generation of Germans. And I do not believe in collective guilt. So I have absolutely no problem with the young Germans. I even feel sorry for the young Germans because to be maybe sons or daughters of killers is different than to be sons and daughters of the victims. And I felt sorry for them. I still do. (from an interview with Elie Wiesel)

Our age is a different age. The words are not the same, the perpetrators are not the same perpetrators but it is the same evil, and there remains only one answer: Never again. (President Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany)

• • •

A few profound, curmudgeonly thoughts…

• • •

Institutional dereliction…

The always intriguing Mockingbird blog takes note of several recent observations about “the increasingly tenuous relationship between individuals and institutions.” One of the best articles cited is How Did Americans Lose Faith in Everything?  by Yuval Levin. Here are some of his poignant thoughts:

But what we are missing is not simply greater connectedness but a structure of social life: a way to give shape, purpose, concrete meaning and identity to the things we do together. If American life is a big open space, it is not a space filled with individuals. It is a space filled with these structures of social life — with institutions. And if we are too often failing to foster belonging, legitimacy and trust, what we are confronting is a failure of institutions.

…We trust political institutions when they undertake a solemn obligation to the public interest and shape the people who populate them to do the same. We trust a business because it promises quality and reliability and rewards its workers when they deliver those. We trust a profession because it imposes standards and rules on its members intended to make them worthy of confidence. We trust the military because it values courage, honor and duty in carrying out the defense of the nation and forms human beings who do, too.

What stands out about our era in particular is a distinct kind of institutional dereliction — a failure even to attempt to form trustworthy people, and a tendency to think of institutions not as molds of character and behavior but as platforms for performance and prominence.

• • •

And then there’s this…

• • •

Some profoundly eye-catching headlines…

CNN Unveils New Format Where Hosts Just Watch Fox News and Yell at It

Trump Lifts Obama-Era Protections Trapping Gangthor The Malevolent In Tomb Deep Within Murky Depths Of Pacific Ocean

God Is About to Release an Impartation Over You (huh?)

Mennonite Family Adopts “Baby Yoder”

Is Beth Moore Behind the Baseball Cheating Scandal?

• • •

Jim Lehrer’s Rules of Journalism

May he rest in peace and his tribe be restored a hundred-fold

• • •

On my winter playlist…

CM – Culture Wars Update: Why I Am Not a Culture Warrior

Note from CM: I wrote this post in 2009. I thought I would re-run it today in its original form and ask for input on how you see that things may or may not have changed.

One sentence from the original post that I know is most certainly obsolete is found right in the beginning: “This involvement [of evangelicalism with politics] had its high water mark in the presidency of George W. Bush and the Republican domination of Congress.” From where I sit, it looks like the water is still rising.

Along with this piece, you might want to read Scot McKnight’s post that is linked on the IM Bulletin Board: Christianity Tomorrow. Scot maintains that the Christian church in many of its expressions (not just evangelicalism) has fallen into “Locke’s trap” and has increasingly adopted the “secular eschatology and soteriology” of “statism” — though few would admit to this. Statism “is a belief that solutions to our biggest problems are found in the state and the Christian’s responsibility from the Left or the Right is to get involved and acquire political power.”

A WORD: This is not a post about President Trump and I do not want the discussion to devolve into rants about him or the current administration, its policies, the current impeachment trial, etc. Stay on topic — comments will be strictly moderated and I will not feel the need to defend myself in doing so.

• • •

Why I Am Not a Culture Warrior

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: When it comes to the culture wars, I am a conscientious objector.

Since the 1970’s evangelicalism in America has taken to getting involved in public cultural activism and the political sphere with unprecedented vigor. Evangelicals have followed the voices of religious leaders like Francis Schaeffer, Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy, and James Dobson to raise their voices in the public debate about such issues as abortion, the erosion of personal morality (as they see it) especially as portrayed in the entertainment media, and the gay rights movement. In the process, evangelical Christianity became so connected to the conservative wing of the Republican party that at times the two seemed indistinguishable. This involvement had its high water mark in the presidency of George W. Bush and the Republican domination of Congress.

As a result of this evangelical embrace of a culture war approach to their mission in the world, churches, pastors, and individual Christians have been swept up into having to choose sides on many complex issues and to adopt a “Christ against culture” mentality. This has coincided with the development of an entire Christian subculture, which in my view has isolated believers from their neighbors and genuine redemptive interaction with the world.

Thus, evangelicals find themselves in the equivalent of spiritual trench warfare. We are dug in to our positions, separated from our “enemies,” seeing things only from one perspective, and having no real contact with those on the other side except to bombard them relentlessly. Doesn’t sound like a Great Commission lifestyle to me!

As Michael Spencer observes on his Internet Monk blog:

Every day I listen to and read Christians whose consideration of other persons is on the basis of politics and cultural conflict. Not the Gospel. Their anger and frustration dominates, not the Gospel.

Frankly, I don’t want any part of that approach. And so I’ve decided to conscientiously object to that path of life and “ministry.”

Here are some of the reasons I’ve gone AWOL…

(1) The culture war approach assumes the position that America is somehow different than other nations in our manifest destiny, a “Christian” land that must be “saved” and “brought back” to its Christian “roots.”

In the minds of those who assume this, there is an idea of some kind of vague Eden that once existed in our nation when people all went to church, lived moral lives, and the government supported the teachings of Christ. ‘Twas never so.

(2) The culture war approach holds that the media is the arena in which we should fight our battles, that it accurately represents the reality of the situation on the ground, and that therefore we must make our voice be heard through the media in order to win peoples’ hearts and minds.

The simple fact is that most people listen to media that confirm their beliefs, not challenge them. You won’t find the conservatives lining up to see the latest Michael Moore or Bill Maher film. Nor will you pass many liberals listening to Rush in their cars or catch them watching Fox News at night. Culture warriors generally preach to the choir.

But that’s not the only problem. By moving to a media-driven strategy, Christians have become conditioned to seek the spectacular and forsake the down-to-earth path our Savior teaches us to take–the small, seemingly insignificant, seed-planting approaches of loving our neighbors in the context of real daily life. That is the mystery of how the Kingdom comes and how the world is changed.

(3) The culture war approach relies on political machinery as a primary weapon to restore “righteousness” to the land.

This means we have allowed the world to choose the arena, the weapons, the rules, the referees, and the definitions of what it means to “win” or “lose” in the conflict. In addition, it makes Christians vulnerable to the temptations of power, which are among the least understood among us.

(4) The culture war approach teaches us to fear, dislike, oppose, and look down on our neighbors rather than lay down our lives for them in sacrificial love.

It pits us “against” them, when the Incarnation teaches us to be “with” them.

(5) The culture war approach leads to Christians unwisely choosing our battles and showing a misleading face to the world.

Must a person have “correct” political or cultural opinions before he can come to faith in Christ? The simple Good News of Jesus and his gracious salvation can become so mixed with righteous “positions” that the Gospel itself gets distorted.

IMHO, the culture war approach has a lot more in common with the way the Pharisees lived out the religious life and ministry than it does with our Lord Jesus Christ and his Apostles.

CM – Another Look: Richard

Curtiss P-40E Warhawk

Note from CM: I went to a funeral this week of a 96 year-old veteran of both WWII and Korea. As I sat there in the service, I was reminded of this post from a few years ago about one of his comrades.

• • •

Richard

This is Middle America. This is the generation of “older people” that I grew up respecting, the people who ran or worked for local businesses, tended to their families, and were involved in their communities. This is the group of people who essentially built the world as I have known it. They fought in World War II, came home and went to school or work, marrying the sweethearts they met before or after going overseas. This is the Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner, Crosby and Hope, Bogie and Bacall generation.

This is Richard.

I officiated Richard’s funeral this week, and it was an overwhelmingly positive experience. Sure, there were tears, but many of them were tears of gratitude. Richard had lived 92 good years, was married over 65 years, lived a simple, frugal life with five kids and a number of pets in a proud, well-kept neighborhood in the city. A neighbor told me he used to have a good walk every morning and evening to and from the bus that took him to work downtown.

Richard was a codebreaker in Italy during World War II. He was proud of his military service and he maintained an interest in the era by building model WWII model airplanes and reading about it. A few years ago he had the privilege of going on an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. and seeing the WWII Memorial honoring guys like him.

His wife died a few years ago and it was the one sadness in his life as far as I could determine. Oh yes, he did have one regret from earlier days. While serving in Italy, he came into possession of a beautiful dog to which he gave an Italian name. When it came time to return stateside, he was not allowed to bring the dog with him. The kids told me he talked about that dog for the rest of his life.

Richard loved animals. I’ve always considered that to be a telling feature of a person. If someone loves animals and treats them with kindness and loving care, it usually indicates goodness of character. His last pet was the most affectionate cat I have ever been around. When we met as a hospice team after Richard’s death, we talked a long time about what would happen to the cat; they were that close. Solution: one of the daughters will take her to her home, a continual reminder of her dad’s gentle and kind spirit.

Richard had an active mind right up to the end. Whenever I visited, he was working through a book, or several of them. When he could no longer read well enough, he listened to books on tape, and we would discuss what he was reading. He remained curious and interested in learning until his final days. I always found conversations with Richard stimulating, and I would try to get him to talk about his days in World War II. The one television show he would not miss was Jeopardy.

There came a time when Richard began seeing visions of people standing by his bed and having dreams of past events. We discussed those and he shared with me that he was more curious about them than frightened or concerned. Talking with the family after he died, it became clear to me that his mind was actively reviewing his life and processing his memories.

Here is the text I used for the message I gave at Richard’s service, from Genesis 25:

This is the length of Abraham’s life, one hundred seventy-five years. Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field…that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with his wife Sarah. After the death of Abraham God blessed his son Isaac.

Of all the hospice patients I’ve had the privilege of meeting, this passage perhaps fits Richard better than any of the others. He died in a good old age, an old man and “full of years” – a profound description that speaks not only of his life’s length but also of its quality.

Richard died a man who had lived a good, full life.

Now he lies next to his “Sarah,” gathered to his people.

And I love the way this text ends: “After the death of Abraham God blessed his son Isaac.”

When we lose good people like Richard from past generations we may feel unequipped to take their place. However, God is with us as he was with our fathers – God is our dwelling place in all generations – and his blessing carries on. It is as available to us as it was to Richard, and it may well be that someday a historian will look back and say, “After the death of Richard, God blessed his family and the people of their generation.”

Richard is not a hero in any spectacular, public sense. But to me, Richard represents the best of Middle America, the people who have been my common grace heroes, the “greatest generation” if you will.

These are the righteous, of whom the wisdom psalm says:

The meek shall inherit the land,
and delight themselves in abundant prosperity….
The LORD knows the days of the blameless,
and their heritage will abide forever.
(Ps. 37:11, 18)