Paul Crouse is a former Antioch intern by way of Moody Bible institute who is a good friend and has done a lot of art for The Justice Conference and Antioch over the last few years. He just blessed me with this new art (think Aslan) which is probably the coolest piece of art anyone has ever made me–except, of course, for the various drawings by my four girls on the side of my fridge! Thanks, Paul Crouse.
Our friends Peter and Miranda Harris stopped by at Antioch this past Sunday and delivered what I thought was the best message given at Antioch in eight years.
Peter and Miranda co-founded A Rocha some three decades ago and it is now the largest international Christian Conservation group in the world operating in twenty countries.
Please take the time to watch the below, not only because Peter has a wonderful British accent, but because it is one of the most coherent and biblically reasoned talks on Creation you are likely to hear.
One of the more unique prophetic voices for many pastors and leaders I know today is Old Testament professor Walter Brueggemann. Brueggemann has a profound and simple way of highlighting narrative threads in the Old Testament as well as a poetic ability to make the message of the prophets come alive today.
Walter Brueggemann is the William Marcellus McPheeters Professor Emeritus of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary. He is an ordained minister and the author of dozens of books and hundreds of articles.
(Not only that, but he’s one of the more interesting people you’ll ever meet!)
KW: In The Prophetic Imagination, you bridged the witness of the Old Testament prophets into a passionate critique of today’s dominant culture. How does Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now both continue and focus this program?
WB: My book Sabbath as Resistance continues the contemporary critique of Prophetic Imagination. I root Sabbath in Moses and the Decalogue both as resistance and as alternative to Pharaoh who allowed no Sabbath from production quotas. The refusal to define life by productive work is a mighty act of resistance against consumer culture and its commoditization.
KW: In your writings you talk of Empire in strong spiritual language. How do you explain modern empire to listeners so the theological and cultural significance of your message is clear?
WB: I think “empire” should be expressed and is experienced as a “totalism” that monopolizes the political economy, all technology, and all imagination via control of the media. Empire allows nothing outside its domain as is evident in control of the news. Among us empire is not a nation state (not even the USA), but is the market ideology that controls everything. The NFL is the liturgic performance of that empire that ends, predictably, in violence.
KW: Often, modern listeners think of the Old Testament purely in terms of law or archaic thinking. How do you counter this so as to awaken imagination and draw out contemporary relevance in your writings?
WB: All of my writings work at showing the contemporary relevance the biblical text. To overcome such a caricature of the Old Testament, all one has to do is to read the text, most especially the poetry of the prophets and the Psalms. Prophetic poetry in Hosea, Jeremiah, and II Isaiah focuses on the pathos of God. I think the caricature is based on a misreading of Paul in Romans and Galatians.
KW: What is your favorite Old Testament passage in terms of direct prophetic relevance to modern culture and why?
WB: The best summary text I know on the prophets is Jeremiah 9:23-24; it offers two competing triads, “wealth, might, and wisdom” or “steadfast love, justice, and righteousness.” The choice between these two triads is the burden of the prophets and the freedom of the gospel.
KW: The subtitle of Sabbath as Resistance is “saying no to the culture of now.” What do you feel are the unique dangers of our globalized and technological world and how does Sabbath provide a counter-narrative or corrective?
WB: The danger of globalized technology is to reduce everything and everyone to a commodity that can be used, administered, and given a price tag. Sabbath is an insistence that we and all others are neighbors, not commodities.
KW: How would you sum up or describe the underlying aim or goal of your extensive writing to the church?
WB: My continuing insistence in my work is that life is possible outside the domain of Pharaoh when it is lived according to the gospel of neighborly covenant. But that requires not simply personal resolve; it also requires a radically altered economic and political practice so that social relationships of another kind become normative.
KW: What charge would you give to next generation leaders passionate about rethinking and reimagining the world through theological lenses?
WB: My charge would be to develop a well-informed critical capacity in order to see that what we regard as “given” in our society is in fact a construct. When recognized as a construct, alternatives become imaginable and possible.
Photo Credit: Adam Csider Photography
“Christianity did not come in order to develop the heroic virtues in the individual but rather to remove the selfishness. It is not a matter of improving yourself up to a certain maximum. Why, this can so easily be nothing but selfishness and pride.” Soren Kierkegaard
One of the struggles I have with writing is that it is a better tool for communicating self, thoughts, feelings, struggles and desires than it is of removing self. It is hard to be truly self-negating with a pen in one’s hand.
Writing is, in many respects, a mechanism by which we assert ourselves no matter how meek the tone.
Accordingly, I find myself drawn these days to quiet leaders. There is so much noise, so many ever-present voices, leaders and writers that the solitary figure going about their business in quiet captures my imagination.
These days, I’m not looking to hear one more opinion or read one more post. Rather, I am looking for the one who has gone to the wilderness and has the authority to cut through the noise and say something that will have relevance for twenty years.
I don’t know about you, but my eyes are searching for a prophet.
But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there no longer a prophet of the Lord here whom we can inquire of?” 1 Kings 22:7
This past Sunday, Antioch celebrated our 8th birthday! We asked everyone to submit some of their favorite memories from their time in the community and this Sunday several of our long-time members read aloud the highlights below:
My favorite memory is…
Family communion night. Vulnerable speakers.
Watching the church body celebrate with me when I got baptized.
My second Sunday in Bend over 4 years ago when I sat in an Antioch service. I was so much in need of friends and a community and I knew I had found it in Antioch.
Watching kids, then adults play greased watermelon football at Crescent Lake church camp this year!
Antioch means changed lives–the many testimonies recently of people who have been impacted by our church.
Meeting my husband at the first Justice Conference! We were both volunteers.
The morning Ken said, “Care enough about truth to go deep with it” close to five years ago.
The announcement that Antioch has contributed over $400,000 to Bend schools.
Any time Micah grabs the mic…good times right there.
Our family’s favorite tradition of Christmas Eve Services at the Tower Theatre.
Bonfires at kinship.
Worship with Justin Lavik and Grace.
Hosting an intern for the summer and the lasting friendship it has brought our family.
Aaron Wells telling stories on stage and for the kids.
Randy Jacobs’s testimony about the birth of the mobile medical van ministry in Central Oregon.
The launch of The Justice Conference.
The closeness of our home group and how we support each other.
Seeing Linda’s smile and energy each week as we bring our children to Antioch Kids.
Having my life changed in a Kilns College class.
Watching my 10 year old daughter be baptized in the Deschutes.
Breaking bread with fellow Antioch members in home group: fellowship, food, fun!
Settlers of Catan late at night, Risk, and making some really good friends.
Richard Twiss visiting July 2012 – perspective matters! What an incredible human.
Walking into the movie theater eight years ago. I knew then it was the place for my family.
From the staff: Getting to welcome 170 interns into our family from over 40 colleges and universities; watching our online Redux videos travel all over the world, garnering over 1.5 million views; and baptizing 150 people in the Deschutes River.
It was really cool to see a lot of the corollaries to the original Antioch Dream that we wrote before the church was planted in 2006.
Joshua Ryan Butler serves as pastor of local and global Outreach at Imago Dei Community, a church in the heart of Portland, Oregon, where he enjoys helping people who wrestle with some of the tough topics of the Christian faith. Joshua oversees the church’s city ministries in areas like foster care, human trafficking and homelessness and develops international partnerships in areas like clean water, HIV-support and church planting. He is the author of The Skeletons in God’s Closet: The Mercy of Hell, the Surprise of Judgment, the Hope of Holy War. You can connect with him on Twitter @butlerjosh and online at www.joshuaryanbutler.com.
KW: You call the tough topics of the Christian faith “the skeletons in God’s closet”—can you explain what you mean by this?
JB: Totally. I’ve found many of us fear God is hiding “skeletons in the closet,” tough topics like hell, judgment and holy war that, if we opened the closet doors (our bibles) and looked more closely, we’re afraid we’d find that God is not truly good or worthy of our trust.
But we often feel this way, I’ve come to believe, because we have a caricature of what the gospel actually says. Popular caricatures in our culture—and in our churches—make God look like a sadistic torturer, a cold-hearted judge or a genocidal maniac . . . rather than a good and loving God.
I’ve wrestled with these topics over the years, and talked with countless others who struggle with them too. So I wanted to help folks grappling with them by “throwing open the closet doors,” so to speak, to pull these bones out into the open and exchange the popular caricatures for the beauty and power of the real thing.
When we do, I believe we discover these were never really skeletons at all . . . but proclamations of a God who is good “in his very bones,” not just in what he does, but in who he is.
So my biggest hope is to help us reclaim a confidence in the goodness of God—not in spite of these topics, but actually through them.
KW: You mention wrestling with these topics personally. What did that look like in your own life?
JB: Back in college, I had a radical encounter with Jesus that turned my life upside-down (or perhaps better yet, right-side up). I remember sharing this experience with a friend in the dorms, and his immediate response was, “So do you think I’m going to hell now?”
I wasn’t sure how to respond. I hadn’t brought up hell. I wasn’t even thinking about it. I wasn’t looking for the questions, but they found me.
Shortly after, I worked on the Navajo reservation supporting a traditional community of indigenous shepherds in a land-rights case against a multi-billion dollar international mining company. I began learning more about the many injustices my country had perpetuated against native peoples: the unending string of broken treaties, the massacres and forced migrations, the manipulation and coercion used to get what we wanted for as little as possible in return.
And like a black eye in the middle of it all was Manifest Destiny, an ideology of the 18th century that drew upon imagery from Old Testament holy war to justify mistreatment of native peoples, as if we were a new Israel conquering a new Canaan.
I was angry at this picture. It’s bad enough to say, “We knocked you down”; even worse to say, “God gave us the punch.” Talk about adding insult to injury: America’s historic declaration that God was driving the train that ran over native peoples.
And I began to wonder: what was going on with holy war in the Old Testament? Why did God tell Israel to take out Canaan? Did I want to follow a God who commanded his people to destroy the indigenous inhabitants of the land?
My gut was telling me I’d rather side with the Navajo.
KW: So how did you start to find resolution?
JB: As I began reading the bible with these questions in mind, I found something strange happening: it didn’t freak me out. It didn’t talk about these topics the same way many people, including church people, talked about them.
Perhaps most surprisingly, it actually inspired me. Whereas the popular caricatures brought confusion, Jesus brought conviction; they inspired hubris, Jesus inspired hope. The bible talked about holy war in a way that didn’t justify my country’s treatment of native peoples; it systematically critiqued and confronted it.
I think the concept of a caricature is helpful, because they do contain features of the original. But they’re often blown up or way out of proportion: President Obama’s ears are way too big, Aunt Cindy’s grin is way too wide, Marilyn Monroe’s . . . well, you get the picture.
But a caricature would never pass for a photograph. If you were to take your driver’s license and replace the photo with a caricature, the police officer pulling you over would either laugh . . . or arrest you.
Placed next to a photograph, a caricature looks like a humorous, or even hideous, distortion of the real thing.
Similarly, caricatures of these tough topics do contain features of the original. One doesn’t have to look too far in the biblical story to find that hell has flames, holy war has fighting, judgment brings us face-to-face with God.
But all we have to do is start asking questions: Where do the flames come from, and what are they doing? Who is doing the fighting, and how are they winning? Why does God judge the world, and what basis does he use for judgment?
Questions like these quickly reveal that our popular caricatures are like cartoons: good for us to laugh at, but not to live by.
KW: These topics often seem abstract or distant to us. When you say “live by,” do you find them practical for life today?
JB: Yes, we often think of these matters as more relevant to a fairy-tale world of dragons and monsters, kings and magic trees, fiery furnaces and epic battles. Fairy tales are fun but for another world, right?
In the book, however, I try and demonstrate how these topics are much more at home in our everyday world than we might think. Our world is torn apart by the destructive power of hell today, breaking at the seams and longing for God’s redemption. Our empires rage upon the earth, seeking to rule without God, and people around the world are crying out for God’s kingdom to come, longing for worship rather than autonomy, justice rather than rebellion, communion rather than independence.
In the book, we relate these topics to issues as wide-ranging as sex trafficking and genocide, American democracy and Third World dictatorships, modern suburbs and social media. We travel to places as diverse as Nigeria, China, and my hometown of Portland, Oregon; from Boston high-rises and the heights of the global economy to Brazilian cardboard shanties and displaced slums in the developing world.
We explore the cultural longings embodied in our fairy tales and the historical longings embodied in our war stories. We have respectful conversations with Buddhism, Islam, and atheism. We visit history from World War II to the European colonization of the Southern Hemisphere to the ancient Roman Empire.
And on the way, we deal with pedophile priests, cancer surgeries, pub rockers, home makeovers, and unruly wedding crashers.
Buckle your seatbelt; we’re in for a ride.
KW: What is your biggest hope for those who read this book?
JB: That we can reclaim together a greater confidence in the goodness of God.
The central theme and driving message of the book is that God is good. Not just a little bit good. Not just partially good. Not just sometimes good and sometimes not. But extravagantly, mercifully, gloriously, better-than-we-can-ask-or-imagine good.
There is a refrain one can often hear in churches that proclaims loudly and boldly, “God is good—all the time!” That is the refrain of the book.
Even in the tough topics—perhaps especially in the tough topics—all the time, God is good.
You can check out the book trailer here.
I love this quote by the late theologian Richard Niebuhr.
“Institutions can never conserve without betraying the movements from which they proceed. The institution is static, whereas its parent movement has been dynamic; it confines men within its limits, while the movement had liberated them from the bondage of institutions; it looks to the past, [although] the movement had pointed forward. Though in content the institution resembles the dynamic epoch whence it proceeded, in spirit it is like the [state] before the revolution. So the Christian church, after the early period, often seemed more closely related in attitude to the Jewish synagogue and the Roman state than to the age of Christ and his apostles; its creed was often more like a system of philosophy than like the living gospel.” H. Richard Niebuhr
One of the constant struggles I have with Antioch and Kilns College is the tension between creating an effective and efficient structure on the business side and keeping the raw energy and loose vibe of the movement side.
If these endeavors ever stall out and settle into only institutional frameworks, I don’t want to be involved.
If the Spirit of God is moving and people are being changed and influenced there has to be an element of spontaneity, randomness, big thinking and huge risks. The movement leads to passionate people giving their lives and time away as volunteers simply because they see God’s hand at work.
May the church today be less “like a system of philosophy than like the living gospel.”
The Lord is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?
When the wicked advance against me
to devour me,
it is my enemies and my foes
who will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me,
my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
even then I will be confident.
One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
and set me high upon a rock.
Then my head will be exalted
above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make music to the Lord.
Hear my voice when I call, Lord;
be merciful to me and answer me.
My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
Your face, Lord, I will seek.
Do not hide your face from me,
do not turn your servant away in anger;
you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
God my Savior.
Though my father and mother forsake me,
the Lord will receive me.
Teach me your way, Lord;
lead me in a straight path
because of my oppressors.
Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
for false witnesses rise up against me,
spouting malicious accusations.
I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.
Reggie Williams is an Assistant Professor of Christianity at McCormick Theological Seminary, in Chicago, Illinois. His research consists of analysis of the intermingling of race and religion from the modern colonial period to the Harlem Renaissance. Particularly, Christology within the Harlem Renaissance literary movement yields evidence of a prophetic Christianity that can guide peaceful resistance of oppression. Williams’ book Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and an Ethic, recently published by Baylor University Press, examines Bonhoeffer’s exposure to Christianity in the Harlem Renaissance, and it’s effect on Bonhoeffer’s Nazi resistance. He and his wife Stacy Williams are the parents of a son, Darion (15yrs), and a daughter, Simone (13yrs).
KW: How did your interest in this topic first develop?
RW: I first became interested in this topic while I was a PhD student of Glen Stassen’s. Glen argued that Christianity in America suffers from a problem of reducing the way of Jesus to thin principles (like personal responsibility, modesty, humility, etc…), which can be inserted into any ideology and turn Jesus into divine support for harmful ideologies. Glen saw that the slave trade in America did exactly that with Jesus, and whole traditions of Christianity in America continue to suffer from the effects of thinning Jesus down in order to see American race-based slavery as a legitimate Christian practice. That is an American injustice that we’ve not yet recovered from. But, there are other American traditions of Jesus that have not suffered from the need to make Jesus accommodate practices of domination. African American traditions of Jesus were born in the heat of domination, and tend to center on Jesus with more attention to concrete commandments (rather than abstract ideals) and social expectations. For Glen, Bonhoeffer’s experience in Harlem demonstrates the power of that historical reality; Jesus appropriated for domination and authoritarianism in Germany meeting Jesus identified with the marginalized and oppressed in Harlem, resulting in a transformative effect upon Bonhoeffer’s Christian identity. Glen introduced the story to me, and I took it from there.
KW: Can you compare/contrast Bonhoeffer’s beliefs and practice before and after his experience with black Christianity and the Harlem Renaissance?
RW: Years after his return from his time in Harlem, Bonhoeffer claimed that during his student years, (which scholars interpret as ending upon his return from New York in the summer of 1931) he wasn’t really a Christian, yet. In his words, he was arrogant, uninterested in the Bible, or in prayer. He didn’t attend church much, but in New York, he became a lay leader at Abyssinian Baptist Church. Upon his return to Germany, he continued to take church attendance very seriously, and he was now making use of the Bible, interpreting scripture as relevant for daily Christian living. Upon his return to Germany, Bonhoeffer began talking about racism, and “ethnic pride” as sin. Bonhoeffer recognized the Nazi race language as the German equivalent of American white supremacy after Harlem where he learned that white supremacy is a Christian problem.
KW: Can you briefly summarize how you think this affected Bonhoeffer’s work against the Nazi regime in Germany?
RW: After New York, Bonhoeffer was familiar with an African American tradition of Jesus that associated Jesus with suffering humanity, rather than with the powerful and the elite. Within an African American Christian worldview, Christian faithfulness was re-calibrated for Bonhoeffer, from the perspective of the marginalized, in whom he came to recognize Jesus hidden in the world in suffering and shame. By positioning himself as a white German man, next to black Christians in America, Bonhoeffer was enabled to interrogate Christian identity and Christian faithfulness in a way that called into question his formation as a white man, and consequently in Germany, he was equipped to do the same self reflection as a German Aryan Christian in relationship to Jewish people.
KW: Why do you think this aspect of Bonhoeffer’s experience hasn’t been explored significantly before?
RW: Well, first, I think matters like Harlem, race, black theology and church life have been an enigma for many white theologians. The theological implications of race are legion and they are perplexing. Second, only in recent years have Bonhoeffer scholars, in America and in Germany begun to give Bonhoeffer’s study time in Harlem any serious attention. Many years ago, one Bonhoeffer scholar by the name of Ruth Zerner wrote an article that claimed Harlem was influential for Bonhoeffer’s theological development. Bonhoeffer wrote to his best friend Eberhardt Bethge after he was imprisoned by the Nazis that he hadn’t changed much in his life except under the influence of his father’s personality, and after his first trip abroad. Zerner made a convincing case that he was referring to his trip to America as a post-doctoral student in 1930-31 when he mentioned his first trip abroad. Other scholars have begun to follow Zerner’s interpretive lead about Bonhoeffer’s transformative trip abroad, but they had to swim against the tide of opinion that was still arguing that Bonhoeffer was referring to an earlier trip to Rome and Africa that he took with an older brother. In all of this debate stands the difficulty of interpreting the impact of theology on our Christian identity, and Christian social interaction. Race is a complicating source of that interaction, and it has been missed precisely because it has not been respected or understood. Yet, we cannot really discern all that was going on with Bonhoeffer’s advocacy for the Jews in Germany without attention to the theological implications of race.
KW: Having studied Bonhoeffer so deeply, what do you think he would say about his rising popularity and exposure in America today?
RW: I’m sure Bonhoeffer would be shocked by his popularity. When the Nazi government arrested him in 1943, he was not a very popular person in Germany. The Confessing Church movement that had been his outlet of theological resistance to the Nazis was no longer in existence by the time of his arrest. Large numbers of the confessing church membership succumbed to Nazi demands that they show loyalty to the Nazi government by swearing allegiance to the Führer. In that process Bonhoeffer was pushed out and to the margins of the community of his colleagues, nearly alone in his Christian opposition. Today many regard him as a hero, but in his day, he was just a young radical professor/pastor, struggling to encourage faithfulness to Christ among his colleagues. I’m sure he’d want the same faithfulness for Christians, today. I’m also sure that he’d be surprised by the many different interpretations of his radical Christian claims, and his international acclaim.
Bonhoeffer was not one who sought the limelight. He was instead one who preferred humble solidarity with other Christians within community. The urge to follow a charismatic leader was not one that he respected. Life within Christian community as the practice of submission to the will of God who is present in Christ, was Christianity for Bonhoeffer.
KW: What is your hope for those who read this book? Is there a practical application for everyday Christians?
RW: I read Bonhoeffer as one who helps us to ask important questions about Christian identity and identity formation. Our understanding of what it means to be human is tethered to notions of ideal humanity, religion and ideal community. These themes of ideal humanity and ideal community have calibrated Christianity to correspond with harmful ideologies that inform our collective understanding of race. Bonhoeffer helps us to interrogate the harmful connection between ideal humanity and ideal community as people who seek to live in the real world, in faithfulness to the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. We really cannot do theological education, or Christianity, well in America without paying attention to the formation of our identity as human and Christian. I hope that readers will see the kind of work that Bonhoeffer had to engage in order to advocate for people pushed to the margins of society by the dream of an ideal community.
Guest Post by Ed Underwood
This is Part 2 of a 2 Part Series
In the last post I wrote about four truths you need to know before you start disciplemaking–four truths I wish I’d know before I started, myself! In this post, I’d like to share two words that should guide your discipleship activity.
1. Relationship. Jesus’ invitation to discipleship is an invitation to relationship with him and his people. He invited his disciples to follow him by simply being with him. That’s the simple but dramatic scene of Mark 3:13-14: “Now Jesus went up the mountain and called for those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve (whom he named apostles), so that they could be with him and he could send them….”
Without relationship discipleship seems like teaching cold truths about a warm Savior. Truths about the Christian life, about Christ, about God, about the Bible. But what is Christianity about? What is the Bible about? What is eternal life about? Eternal life is receiving the life of God and sharing that life with Him and his people forever. It’s all about relationship. After all, Christianity is indeed a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Relationship integrates biblical truth. Every doctrine, every story, every truth is designed to draw us into a closer relationship with Christ and others. So each lesson moves the students that way—closer to Christ and others.
2. Grace. Consider what discipleship involves! When Paul defended his ministry before King Agrippa he recounts exactly what Jesus told him to do in Acts 26:15-20. Here’s my paraphrase: On the basis who I am and what I have called you to do, I will protect and empower you as I use you to open the eyes of those who believe in Me so that they are delivered form darkness, rescued from the power of Satan, receive forgiveness and an inheritance as they follow Me.
The goal is remarkable—to draw your friends into a closer relationship with the Lord Jesus. More than remarkable, your goal is supernatural! You cannot do this on your own. The only way you will reach your goal is the same way you received eternal life and grew in your Christian life—by grace. Only God’s Spirit can move a heart closer to Christ.
Grace stimulates Christian growth. Every sin forsaken, every step of obedience, every truth grasped, every attitude changed, every hurt healed is the result of God’s grace. So each move closer to Christ has to happen in this way—by grace, through faith. Spiritual growth requires an atmosphere of grace.
Discipleship isn’t easy or hard … it’s impossible if the Holy Spirit isn’t empowering it. So it’s all about grace …from beginning to end … and the “end” is the moment we meet Jesus.
You’re going to make a lot of mistakes as a discipler, I know, I’ve made them all.
But if you’ll keep those two words in mind—relationship and grace—you’ll never lose your way.
Guest Post by Michael Badriaki
I recently visited Nelson Mandela—Madiba’s—prison cell on Robben Island where he was held during apartheid in South Africa. What a place for anyone to learn about human pain and suffering. I am reminded of Bob Schieffer’s recent interview on “Face of the Nation” with former US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. Albright summed up our current condition by saying “the world is a mess.” Madam Secretary is right. Her interview focused on the conflict between Ukraine and Russia and the Gaza and Israel conflict, but the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) epidemic in West Africa kept coming to my mind.
Ebola hits close to home, since I have personal experience with its harmful threat. In 2001, Ebola was confirmed in Uganda, which is my home country. I remember the grip of fear, uncertainty and embarrassment that surrounded the outbreak. There was talk of wearing gloves as protective gear during handshakes. I wondered what we could do as the church in Uganda. Was silent prayer enough? If not, then what manner of praying could we do? Was it prayer offered in faith, since prayer involves faith? But faith without works is dead.
During the current Ebola crisis, I have wondered why the global church’s voice has been so quiet, even with a death toll of more than 4,200 lives in West Africa. The global Church’s silence pales in comparison to the attention shown during the 9/11 attacks in New York City where over 3,000 people lost their lives. Why such disparities of response? Could it be another delayed response as it was during the wake of the global HIV/AIDS catastrophe?
Ebola is no stranger to students of history in Uganda. In fact, Uganda has been one of the hardest hit countries by more than one strain of Ebola. However, Ugandan’s health community resiliently determined to combat Ebola even with prayer. In fact, Uganda’s ministry of health proved its capacity and preparation to control and contain Ebola in Uganda.
Yet such hopeful news is lacking in the media’s coverage of the Ebola epidemic. Is it because bad news is profitable? Uganda’s fight against Ebola can provide expertise on how to contain the disease in Africa. Uganda is among the “poor” nations of the world, but this nation’s ability to fend off Ebola showcases why the so called “poor” can, and must, always be part of any leadership and improvement initiative on such matters.
The Christian church and its involvement in “missions” in African countries should consider investing in the care and actions demonstrated in Uganda. There is need to respond to disease crises when they happen, and some Christians have done so. But the global church should prayerfully seek to work with a preventative purpose. Church leaders and congregational members can be best served by a question such as: What are the precursory structural and sinful conditions that contribute to preventable pandemics?
Experts reveal that Ebola is caused by a virus and is a deadly illness that can occur in humans. According to World Health Organization (WHO), “Ebola is introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs, or other bodily fluids of infected animals. Severely ill patients require intensive supportive care. Patients are frequently dehydrated and require oral rehydration with solutions containing electrolytes or intravenous fluids.”
The current Ebola crisis is the “worst Ebola outbreak in history and is expected to continue till the end of the year.” It can be easy to compartmentalize the deadly stories told in the media about the Ebola outbreak or simply leave it to the experts to handle. But chronic infections are shaped by more than mere biology. They are also shaped by social forces well beyond the control of patients and their families.
Human suffering is not the problem of a few; it impacts all. We cannot afford an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. The global church cannot allow such deliberate apathy; otherwise the world-wide church continues to turn its back on patients and their families. And that is the antithesis of Jesus Christ who proclaimed, “… I was sick and you looked after me …” (Matt 25:36). The redeemer of the world desires compassion and action for those who are ill.
Local and global Christians can care for the sick through a prayerful approach to potential and actual epidemics. The global church has an opportunity to serve people who are sick and dying of Ebola. Yet, how does one pray and learn from this crisis?
Many people have heard about the American missionaries who were evacuated because they were infected with Ebola. But what about the people in the African countries who are impacted by Ebola? Has the noise from apathy hampered the attitude of empathy? Does God listen to the prayers of people afflicted by Ebola? What are the conditions of the little children and their families caught up in the storm? When will the epidemic’s storm end?
For the two American missionaries, the Ebola storm was defeated on its arrival into the United States. The fortunate missionaries were cared for at Emory University Hospital and Nebraska Medical Center. Based on the recovery of both American missionaries, people around the world, whether religious or not, now know that it is possible to contain Ebola. We learn that Ebola does not have to go on a bloody, uncontrolled rampage. Amazingly, prior to the recent missionary Ebola patients in America, according to Dr. Bruce Ribner, “… a patient with Ebola virus infection has never been cared for in an institution in the United States.”
Dr. Bruce Ribner, director of infectious diseases at Emory University Hospital says, “… the reason Emory was chosen is because it’s one of the four institutions in the United States capable of handling patients of this nature.” Dr. Ribner also provides non-clinical clues, namely, the presence of institutions that function with strong health systems. Effective leaders build effective institutions. The lack of such institutions and proper health systems in the countries impacted by the Ebola epidemic is part and parcel of the health crisis and structural violence. Other issues are lack of leadership, infrastructure, management, economic factors, conflict, and poor policies.
What part do structural conditions play in this crisis? Emory University Hospital, Nebraska Medical Center, and Uganda’s Ministry of Health provide some answers since these institutions have demonstrated a capacity to stop Ebola more than all the affected Western African countries combined. Structural problems including leadership issues are complex, but these are the places where attention needs to be given.
So what can the global church do? Prayer is a solid place to start, since it is an indispensable practice in the human experience. However, prayer cannot be the “sit down and do nothing” approach. Churches should offer prayers in faith, work to identify and establish mutual collaboration with credible leaders, and invest in viable ventures for medical centers around the world. These are just some of the ways the Church can engage this global crisis.
I’ve been hard at work on a second book and just received the uncorrected proofs on Saturday. It’s called The Grand Paradox: The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God and the Necessity of Faith and seeks to describe and define faith and what it means to live out the Christian life.
One of the thinkers I lean on heavily in the text is Soren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard, arguably, shaped my understanding of faith more than any other Christian writer. He disavowed me of the notion of faith as mental assent and firmly planted in me the conviction that faith is obedience, trust and the reality of leaning of God amidst the uncertainty of life.
Here is a nugget from Kierkegaard that might take a minute or two to digest. It speaks directly, however, to the idea of walking by faith rather than sight (and probability).
When it is a question of making a resolution, the calculation of probability is a contemptible fellow, a bungler, a peddler. It seeks to trick people out of something more than money is worth. Anyone who seeks the aid of probability is lost in imagination, whatever else he may try to do. When making a resolution, if you do not meet up with God, you might as well have never lived. Probability is a commercial paper not quoted in heaven. In making a resolution, therefore, let God overawe probability and rend it speechless.
If you find Kierkegaard, faith or the topic of Christian living interesting, you can see more or pre-order the book on Amazon here.
Guest Post by Ed Underwood
Part 1 of a 2 Part Series
I’ve learned a lot of lessons in forty years of discipling–Forty years of trying something that didn’t work, finding a solution, and having some success. It’s been the greatest adventure of my life, being privileged by the Lord Jesus to make disciples to Him. Before you get started, I want to tell you now what I wish I would have known before I began my journey as a disciplemaker with a high school student so long ago when I was a Young Life leader.
1. You are right in the middle of God’s will. Discipleship is God’s will for every believer, it’s Christ’s Great Commission, our Mandate, our privilege … it is what the Lord Jesus wants us to be about. Making disciples of all the nations is what Jesus told us to do, and the only way that will happen is when individual believers just like you take it seriously and make the commitment to disciple, or mentor one friend. It happens one life at a time.
2. Keep It Simple! Paul put it this way in his second letter to his friend and disciple, Timothy: “And entrust what you heard me say in the presence of many other witnesses to faithful people who will be competent to teach others as well” (2 Timothy 2:2, NET). The NKJV translates it this way: “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).
The strategy is simple. The things someone, say your Paul, told you—whoever your mentor is, you share those with faithful people who will be capable of passing it on to others. Disciplemaking is the addition that leads to multiplication. If I just share my life and the truths I know about Jesus with one eager disciple who will be able to share it with others, I’ve done my addition part so that God can multiply the impact of my little life.
3. View it as a labor of love. This has to be an expression of your love for Jesus Christ and your love for the one you’re discipling. If you think of this as a task, an assignment, something you need to do to bargain with God or any other perspective other than love, you’re not going to last.
Disciplemaking is hard. Think about it. We’re being used by God as he pulls a life out of darkness into the Kingdom of the Son of His love, we’re cooperating with the Holy Spirit to transform self-absorbed and full of darkness people into the expression of their life God originally designed for humanity—to be other-centered worshipers of God … to be more and more like Jesus Christ.
4. Count the Cost! Taking you back to 2 Timothy 2, after stating the basic strategy in v. 2, Paul is quick to remind Timothy of what it will cost: “Take your care of suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3).
Think of discplemaking as the frontlines of spiritual warfare, the clash of two kingdoms for the souls of men and women, boys and girls. You can be sure that Jesus’ enemy, Satan, is set against you. Every distraction, discouragement, and disappointment will be hurled your way. The devil will use anything to stop you from launching a new believer into a life of eternal significance as a disciple of the Master.
In May of 1953 my dad, his parents and two sisters were on a boat that sailed from Rotterdam, Holland with travelers and immigrants to the United States from post-WWII reconstruction Europe.
Ellis Island, the primary entrance point for immigrants from 1892 to 1953 that welcomed millions of immigrants coming to the country, had just been closed by the time my dad sailed past the outstretched arm of the Statue of Liberty. Instead, they stopped just on the other side of Ellis Island in Hoboken, NJ, which had been outfitted as a more modern facility, and offered trains that took immigrants west to the Midwest, Great Plains, and—as in my dad’s case—all the way to Los Angeles.
I’ve been learning more about my family history over the last decade than I remember hearing or paying attention to when I was younger—things such as the fact that my grandfather who was a Dutch Baker landed in the US with $20 in his pocket and eventually retired as the head chef at the Disneyland Hotel.
Culture and heritage is an important thing for identity. I had the benefit of living in Holland between ages 3-6 while my dad, who flew for the US Navy, served an exchange pilot for the Dutch navy. Most of my earliest memories in life are European memories: cows in the green grass in fields in the Swiss Alps, tulip gardens under cloudy skies on Sunday afternoons in Holland, and chasing pigeons in St. Mark’s Square in Venice.
We all come from somewhere, and I was blessed early in life to have exposure to that side of my family history. It’s something I’ve been trying to share with my four daughters (they’ve received no fewer than three Dutch cookbooks over the past few Christmases if that gives you any idea.) I look forward to one day taking the girls to New York, showing them the Statue of Liberty, and telling them the stories of how their Opa (my dad) was welcomed to the land of liberty as have been so many other immigrants in the course of our country’s history. The Statue of Liberty, truly is an amazing and awe-inspiriting symbol of this country highest aspirations.
Here are the famous words penned by Emma Lazarus in 1883 as part of the fundraising efforts to build the pedestal on which the statue would stand.
“The New Colossus”
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. ”
Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
[Here are a few images of me and Tamara and the Statue of Liberty when we took a cruise on a recent trip to New York for a think tank on diversity.]
Lisa Sharon Harper is currently the Senior Director of Mobilizing for Sojourners. She previously served as the founding executive director of New York Faith & Justice. In that capacity she helped establish Faith Leaders for Environmental Justice, a city-wide collaborative effort of faith leaders committed to leveraging the power of their constituencies and their moral authority in partnership with communities bearing the weight of environmental injustice. She also organized faith leaders to speak out for immigration reform and organized the South Bronx Conversations for Change, a dialogue-to-change project between police and the community. Her writing has been featured in The National Civic Review, God’s Politics blog, The Huffington Post, Relevant Magazine, Patheos.com, Urban Faith, and Prism where she has written extensively on tax reform, comprehensive immigration reform, health care reform, poverty, racial and gender justice, and transformational civic engagement. Lisa is the author of Left Right & Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics and Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican or Democrat and recently co-authored Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith with Mae Elise Cannon, Troy Jackson and Soong-Chan Rah.
KW: How did you choose the topics you addressed in the individual chapters of Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith?
LSH: It’s important to understand the diverse nature of the team of authors, to understand how we chose the topics. We are a team of two women and two men; two historians and two theologians; two white evangelicals and two evangelicals of color. At our core, we are products of the evangelical church, specifically, and the American church, more broadly. While some of us might identify with the ones who sinned and others with those sinned against in one chapter, in the next chapter the one sinned against might find that he or she is the sinner. Sin knows no racial or gender bounds. So, first and foremost we all considered the chapters from the perspective of our collective broader identity—the church. And we asked ourselves: “As the church, how have we sinned against the world?” From there it was clear: racism, gender injustice, sin against indigenous peoples, sin against immigrants, sin against Jews and Muslims, sin against the LBGTQ community, and sin against the rest of God’s creation. These are the sins non-Christians hold against Christ and the church—and rightfully so. We have never repented—not collectively. So, these are the sins we would confront and confess in our book.
KW: Can you briefly illustrate your premise that Christians need to ask forgiveness with one of the topics covered in the book?
LSH: Sure. One of our foundational sins as Americans, is our sin against the first nations of this land. Our triumphal mythical American identity as “the city on a hill” and the recipient of God’s “manifest destiny” led our founders to justify all manner of sin against the first people of this land; from the Pequot Massacre, to the Cherokee Trail of Tears and the removal of the five southeastern nations, to the Western removals. Throughout our beginnings we claimed to be God’s chosen people, yet we trampled the Ten Commandments. Often in the name of Jesus, we broke treaties: “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” Sin. We massacred men, women, and children: “Thou shall not commit murder.” Sin. We coveted the lands and resources of our indigenous neighbors: “Thou shalt not covet … anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Sin. We stole land through land grabs and stole native children; not giving them back until their parents converted to Christian faith. “Thou shalt not steal.” Sin.
But most of all, the thread we were struck by—the thread we discovered that wove its way through almost every chapter—is the sin against “the other.” A deep seeded belief that some people bear the image of God more than others—in other words, some people are simply more human (more worthy of protection, more worthy of honor, more worthy of life, more worthy of liberty, more worthy of happiness) than others.
KW: Why do you think the American church has largely missed the importance of lament, given it’s strong emphasis in the scriptures?
LSH: From Genesis to Revelation the importance of lament is threaded throughout the scripture. Yet, the American church is shaped and its vision limited by its experience of the world. Ours is an experience shaped by triumph, not tragedy. American cultural legends, myths, symbols, and heroes, shape our understandings of ourselves in relationship to the world. The Lone Ranger, Manifest Destiny, the city on a hill, and John Wayne live at the heart of the American identity. This triumphal identity causes us to gravitate to triumphal narratives in scripture.
For example, while African Americans have a profound relationship with the story of the Hebrew’s exodus from Egypt, that is not the identity defining narrative of the general public in the U.S. Our nation’s formative story is that of those same Hebrews entering their promised land. Our nation’s founders forged that mythical comparison in the early years of our nation’s history.
What use does a culture built on the myth of triumph have for lament? Our worship songs answer that question: not much. As a result, when confronted with the outcomes of the realities of our world: racism, gender injustice, nativism, the degradation of God’s creation, sin against immigrants and people of other religions, then we are dumbstruck. We don’t know how to respond.
KW: What role do confession and repentance play for those who may not think they are directly involved in these issues?
LSH: Nehemiah offers Christians a valuable picture of representational corporate confession. He did not grow up in Israel. He and his family had nothing to do with the sin that caused the nation’s walls to be breached and burned by fire when the Babylonian Empire conquered the nation. He wasn’t there. Yet, Nehemiah stands in the gap for his people. He identifies with their sin as if it were his own and as if it was the sin of his family.
He says: “Both I and my family have sinned. We have offended you deeply, failing to keep the commandments, the statutes, and the ordinances that you commanded your servant Moses.” (Nehemiah 1:6b-7)
In scripture, confession always leads to repentance. Nehemiah is no different. Immediately following his confession, his feet get to stepping. He goes to the king and gets busy rebuilding the wall. God honors Nehemiah’s confession and repentance. The people of Jerusalem are brought back from exile. The city is restored and the wall is rebuilt.
KW: What makes us so quick to deny sin rather than address it?
LSH: A friend once said to me: “To ask for forgiveness is to die a small kind of death.” It’s true. It’s the death of pride, the death of ego, the death of the façade of perfection. And it’s funny. At the heart of our Christian faith is the belief that we are sinful beings. We are not perfect. That is why we need Jesus. That is why we need the cross. That is why we need the resurrection. Yet, we have rejected our need for Jesus when it comes to the most egregious sins in American church history. We have rejected the cross. And as a result, we have rejected the possibility of resurrection.
Ephesians 2:1-2a tells us: “You were dead through the trespasses and sins, in which you once lived, following the course of this world.” I think something got into our theology and caused us to over spiritualize our sinfulness. We think of it abstractly as our “sinful nature.” So, then we’re able to get “washed in the blood” of Jesus and think cool. I’m clean. Don’t need to worry about being held accountable for my sin anymore. Malarkey! The scripture itself is talking about active sin (not a nature) sins that really do hurt people—sins that really do break relationship—sins that really do destroy the world. We think just because we pray a prayer we’re okay. But acknowledging our sinful nature isn’t enough. We must acknowledge our actual sins and repent of them. We must cease from following the course of this world. We must stop living in the death of our sins. Instead we must die that small kind of death through the simple act of confession. Only then can we experience resurrection. Only then does God say in 2 Chronicles 7:14: “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
KW: Can you share one of your prayers of confession or lament?
LSH: The book is full of prayers of confession and lament. One of the most powerful prayers of lamentation I’ve ever personally experienced was taught to me in the midst of a journey I took to Srebrenica, Bosnia. It was 2004 and I was on a month-long journey with 20 Intervarsity college students from across the U.S. We were traveling through the Balkans to understand what it takes to make biblical peace and what it takes to break it. On this day, we loaded off of our chartered bus at the freshly dug Srebrenica Potocari Memorial cemetery. This was the site of a 1995 massacre during the Bosnian war. Orthodox Serbian forces, blessed by the state church, killed more than 6000 Muslim men and boys by bullet-fire all in one day. We walked dumbstruck among the dead. When we boarded the bus again we prayed a corporate version of a simple prayer prayed by Orthodox monks for centuries: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us.”
KW: What advice do you have for people who want to be able to address these often divisive and misunderstood issues in a cultural conversation that is so fast-moving and driven by headlines?
LSH: I would recommend that folks come together with their church leaders teams, small groups or Bible studies working through the book chapter by chapter. Forgive Us is an excellent opportunity to move congregations from ignorance or apathy, through awareness and confession, to repentance and action.
KW: What impact do you hope to have on America and the American church with this book?
LSH: I think our greatest hope is that Forgive Us will help the church to encounter our forgiving, renewing, restoring, and redeeming God in a way that ultimately impacts the witness of the church and brings healing to our world.
Guest Post by Mike Caba
At the beginning of Western literature stands Homer and the influential texts, The Iliad and The Odyssey, that are attributed to this author. These works portray aspects of the Trojan War and the journey home of one of its participants and in so doing reveal much about the ancient Mediterranean world. They were widely read and recited in antiquity and, as such, they are excellent primary sources for those interested in studying the Biblical world, particularly the competing worldviews that Christianity encountered when it spread from its Jewish roots. In effect, by comparing and contrasting the teachings of Jesus and his followers with other beliefs, we can discover the unique features of the Faith–and Homer provides a treasure trove of opportunities in this regard.
To begin with, one of the primary purposes that the Homeric epics were composed, and thereafter frequently recited, was to facilitate the continuance of the values of a patriarchal society in which the leading male participants sought glory and riches for themselves, often through warfare–though not exclusively so. To support this value system, the most potent gods were often seen as furthering the cause of the leading men. For example, Zeus actually loses sleep “pondering in his heart how he might bring honour to Achilleus,” which he eventually does through the means of vicious battles in which Achilleus slaughters foes uncounted. And so it goes throughout these stories as the leading combatants, with the support of the gods, are ever concerned about their glory and property, with women being one type of property, often willingly and in abundance.
Then, into this whirlpool of violence and acquisition comes Jesus, a rustic manual laborer from the edge of the Roman Empire who, though not being characterized by personal frailty, rejected the testosterone-controlled world of his day. Indeed, it would seem that Christ’s teachings were not only different, they were often nearly the opposite of Homeric values. For example, the possibility that a Homeric hero would “turn the other cheek” or follow the admonition to “love your enemies” is almost zero; actually, language of this type would likely have been unintelligible to these macho fighters. Instead, they would much rather “go on and win glory for ourselves” as one friend said to another while urging him to continue in deadly warfare.
Regarding material wealth, certain conflict and even a monumental bloodbath that would last for years, could be expected from Homeric heroes if someone laid hands on their property; thus, the necessity of launching a war to secure the return of Helen, the wife of a chieftain, when she was stolen by an opponent. To the modern Western reader it may seem quite odd that many people lost their lives for the return of the wife (i.e., property) of one man; yet, the value system was so stacked in favor of the patriarchal rights to glory and property that severe battle was necessitated by such an offense. Jesus, on the other hand, while in no way turning a blind eye to thievery of any kind, focused the thoughts of his followers on other types of riches. Indeed, Jesus instructed his people to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (NIV).
And so it goes, in point after point Jesus was, well, different, but not just for the sake of difference; he was actually fundamentally rooted in a reality distinct from the broken world around him. In truth, he understood the temporary and lifeless nature of the bloodstained, sensual and mammon-hungry world in which he walked, and he knew of its coming demise. So he led the way elsewhere and, as odd as it might seem at first glance, he did urge his people to seek glory, but of a different kind by a different path, for he said through one of his spokesmen that to “those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life” (NIV). In effect, real glory comes to those who become good through the goodness he gives, not to those who are strong in the flesh or are of a certain gender or race.
Guest Post by Rick Gerhardt
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a part of that group of thinkers (say, in the back room of the tavern), the folks engaged in deep lengthy conversations that had the potential to change the way their culture approached things? Have you wished you had been there when the ideas that led to significant change were first being kicked around? Have you often thought that you had something to add to the important conversations, if only you had known where they were taking place and had been invited?
Well, this just may be your opportunity and your invitation. Let me explain…
Next month, a group of Christian thought leaders are getting together in beautiful Bend, Oregon to have a deep conversation about our abdicated role as followers of Christ in caring about and for the creation He came to redeem. Taking its title from Colossians 1: 15–20, the All Things Reconciled conference is intended to advance, deepen, and change the conversation about Christ and creation within evangelical Christianity. This groundbreaking dialogue will be jointly hosted by A Rocha and Kilns College. Those helping to guide our conversation will include:
Rev. Peter Harris, Founder of A Rocha International, Conservation Biologist
Dr. Jonathan Wilson, Professor of Theology, Carey Theological College
Leroy Barber, Executive Director, Word Made Flesh
Ken Wytsma, President of Kilns College, Founder of The Justice Conference
Are you meant to be one of the select voices in this conversation? Are you a follower of Christ who is a leader (pastor, teacher, leader in business or NGO, author, or speaker)? Are you aware that the redemption Christ came to initiate applies to all He created? Are you excited about seeing change in the way Christians talk about the environment (locally, nationally, and globally) and in the way we interact with the places God has put us? Then we want your participation.
All Things Reconciled is not open to all comers; the target size of this three-day conversation is 30-40 folks. We’re hoping, of course, for a diversity of Christian perspectives within this group, and that may mean you. If you’re reading this, and meet the criteria I’ve just laid out, will you prayerfully consider joining us in Bend October 21–23 for this important conversation? For more information, or to register, click here.
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