Just watch.

6 07 2009

I just needed to share this. This is perhaps the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.

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Guns and Jesus Christ

6 07 2009

gun

I’ve been involved in quite a few discussions lately about this recent hot topic. Some of that discussion has, indeed been over the conflation of the Church and the [American] State. That’s not what I want to focus on here though, a lot could be said on that, but perhaps another time.

Most recently, as part of one of those discussions on Beliefnet, someone spoke of the need of churches to protect themselves, either of parishoners packing their own protection or having security detail to protect the congregants and minister(s). No doubt, part of this idea may be influenced by another recent major happening.

As a people, we Christians are invited into a dangerous, vulnerable life of living beyond ourselves for the sake of others. That isn’t hubris for the sake of sounding pious. That’s actually what we’re supposed to do. We’re actually supposed to surrender ourselves for the sake of the other, give up our rights to life, and feed, clothe and love our neighbor. Sure, that neighbor might be a gun-wielding psychopath, but that changes nothing. When Jesus gave the parable of the good Samaritan, it was in response to a man who asked, “but Lord, who is my neighbor?”. Our neighbor is not only the one like us, or with whom we happen to get along. Our neighbor is everyone and anyone. The man asked this in response to when Jesus spoke the Great Commandment, “Love the Lord your God…love your neighbor as yourself.” Who are we to love? Everyone. And if for a moment we try and tiptoe around this, thinking that those who wish or cause us harm are outside of the boundaries of our love, Jesus said quite flatly, “You’ve heard it said, love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I tell you, love your enemies.” Indeed, it’s the love of our enemy that Jesus says is the witness that we are children of “[our] heavenly Father” who causes it to rain on both “the just and the injust”. In Luke’s version of the Sermon, Jesus says, “…who is merciful to all, even the wicked and the thankless”.

Dangerous love, that’s what we’re supposed to have. Love so dangerous that it could even get us killed.

What is a church if we’re starting to talk about using armed force to “protect” it? How can the Church be the Church in such a situation? Have we, here in the West (and particularly in America) become so complacent, so comfortable, so easy-going that the idea that we might actually have to spill our own blood to live out the commandments of Jesus makes us shrivel up in fear? That is nothing but a parody of discipleship. And I’ll admit that I’m fully saturated in guilt in this respect, I’m no less complacent and no less comfortable than the next–God have mercy on me–but, how can this be?

Is this what our religion has been reduced to here? To nothing more than a parody of faith?





The Theological Declaration of Barmen 1934

5 07 2009

I. An Appeal to the Evangelical Congregations and Christians in Germany

8.01 The Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church met in Barmen, May 29-31, 1934. Here representatives from all the German Confessional Churches met with one accord in a confession of the one Lord of the one, holy, apostolic Church. In fidelity to their Confession of Faith, members of Lutheran, Reformed, and United Churches sought a common message for the need and temptation of the Church in our day. With gratitude to God they are convinced that they have been given a common word to utter. It was not their intention to found a new Church or to form a union. For nothing was farther from their minds than the abolition of the confessional status of our Churches. Their intention was, rather, to withstand in faith and unanimity the destruction of the Confession of Faith, and thus of the Evangelical Church in Germany. In opposition to attempts to establish the unity of the German Evangelical Church by means of false doctrine, by the use of force and insincere practices, the Confessional Synod insists that the unity of the Evangelical Churches in Germany can come only from the Word of God in faith through the Holy Spirit. Thus alone is the Church renewed.
8.02 Therefore the Confessional Synod calls upon the congregations to range themselves behind it in prayer, and steadfastly to gather around those pastors and teachers who are loyal to the Confessions.
8.03 Be not deceived by loose talk, as if we meant to oppose the unity of the German nation! Do not listen to the seducers who pervert our intentions, as if we wanted to break up the unity of the German Evangelical Church or to forsake the Confessions of the Fathers!
8.04 Try the spirits whether they are of God! Prove also the words of the Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church to see whether they agree with Holy Scripture and with the Confessions of the Fathers. If you find that we are speaking contrary to Scripture, then do not listen to us! But if you find that we are taking our stand upon Scripture, then let no fear or temptation keep you from treading with us the path of faith and obedience to the Word of God, in order that God’s people be of one mind upon earth and that we in faith experience what he himself has said: “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.” Therefore, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

II. Theological Declaration Concerning the Present Situation of the German Evangelical Church

8.05 According to the opening words of its constitution of July 11, 1933, the German Evangelical Church is a federation of Confessional Churches that grew our of the Reformation and that enjoy equal rights. The theological basis for the unification of these Churches is laid down in Article 1 and Article 2(1) of the constitution of the German Evangelical Church that was recognized by the Reich Government on July 14, 1933:

* Article 1. The inviolable foundation of the German Evangelical Church is the gospel of Jesus Christ as it is attested for us in Holy Scripture and brought to light again in the Confessions of the Reformation. The full powers that the Church needs for its mission are hereby determined and limited.
* Article 2 (1). The German Evangelical Church is divided into member Churches Landeskirchen).

8.06 We, the representatives of Lutheran, Reformed, and United Churches, of free synods, Church assemblies, and parish organizations united in the Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church, declare that we stand together on the ground of the German Evangelical Church as a federation of German Confessional Churches. We are bound together by the confession of the one Lord of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
8.07 We publicly declare before all evangelical Churches in Germany that what they hold in common in this Confession is grievously imperiled, and with it the unity of the German Evangelical Church. It is threatened by the teaching methods and actions of the ruling Church party of the “German Christians” and of the Church administration carried on by them. These have become more and more apparent during the first year of the existence of the German Evangelical Church. This threat consists in the fact that the theological basis, in which the German Evangelical Church is united, has been continually and systematically thwarted and rendered ineffective by alien principles, on the part of the leaders and spokesmen of the “German Christians” as well as on the part of the Church administration. When these principles are held to be valid, then, according to all the Confessions in force among us, the Church ceases to be the Church and th German Evangelical Church, as a federation of Confessional Churches, becomes intrinsically impossible.
8.08 As members of Lutheran, Reformed, and United Churches we may and must speak with one voice in this matter today. Precisely because we want to be and to remain faithful to our various Confessions, we may not keep silent, since we believe that we have been given a common message to utter in a time of common need and temptation. We commend to God what this may mean for the intrrelations of the Confessional Churches.
8.09 In view of the errors of the “German Christians” of the present Reich Church government which are devastating the Church and also therefore breaking up the unity of the German Evangelical Church, we confess the following evangelical truths:

8.10 – 1. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” (John 14.6). “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. . . . I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved.” (John 10:1, 9.)
8.11 Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.
8.12 We reiect the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation.

8.13 – 2. “Christ Jesus, whom God has made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” (1 Cor. 1:30.)
8.14 As Jesus Christ is God’s assurance of the forgiveness of all our sins, so, in the same way and with the same seriousness he is also God’s mighty claim upon our whole life. Through him befalls us a joyful deliverance from the godless fetters of this world for a free, grateful service to his creatures.
8.15 We reiect the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords–areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.

8.16 – 3. “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body [is] joined and knit together.” (Eph. 4:15,16.)
8.17 The Christian Church is the congregation of the brethren in which Jesus Christ acts presently as the Lord in Word and sacrament through the Holy Spirit. As the Church of pardoned sinners, it has to testify in the midst of a sinful world, with its faith as with its obedience, with its message as with its order, that it is solely his property, and that it lives and wants to live solely from his comfort and from his direction in the expectation of his appearance.
8.18 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church were permitted to abandon the form of its message and order to its own pleasure or to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions.

8.19 – 4. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men excercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your srvant.” (Matt. 20:25,26.)
8.20 The various offices in the Church do not establish a dominion of some over the others; on the contrary, they are for the excercise of the ministry entrusted to and enjoined upon the whole congregation.
8.21 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church, apart from this ministry, could and were permitted to give itself, or allow to be given to it, special leaders vested with ruling powers.

8.22 – 5. “Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17.)
Scripture tells us that, in the as yet unredeemed world in which the Church also exists, the State has by divine appointment the task of providing for justice and peace. [It fulfills this task] by means of the threat and exercise of force, according to the measure of human judgment and human ability. The Church acknowledges the benefit of this divine appointment in gratitude and reverence before him. It calls to mind the Kingdom of God, God’s commandment and righteousness, and thereby the responsibility both of rulers and of the ruled. It trusts and obeys the power of the Word by which God upholds all things.
8.23 We reject the false doctrine, as though the State, over and beyond its special commision, should and could become the single and totalitarian order of human life, thus fulfilling the Church’s vocation as well.
8.24 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church, over and beyond its special commission, should and could appropriate the characteristics, the tasks, and the dignity of the State, thus itself becoming an organ of the State.

8.25 – 6. “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matt. 28:20.) “The word of God is not fettered.” (2 Tim. 2:9.)
8.26 The Church’s commission, upon which its freedom is founded, consists in delivering the message of th free grace of God to all people in Christ’s stead, and therefore in the ministry of his own Word and work through sermon and sacrament.
8.27 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church in human arrogance could place the Word and work of the Lord in the service of any arbitrarily chosen desires, purposes, and plans.
8.28 The Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church declares that it sees in the acknowledgment of these truths and in the rejection of these errors the indispensable theological basis of the German Evangelical Church as a federation of Confessional Churches. It invites all who are able to accept its declaration to be mindful of these theological principles in their decisions in Church politics. It entreats all whom it concerns to return to the unity of faith, love, and hope.





Elephant and Ass: A Rant

21 07 2008

Seems to me the more I hear terms like “Conservative Christians” and “Liberal Christians” the more worthless the terms “liberal” and “conservative” come to be in describing what kind of Christian a Christian is. What exactly makes someone liberal or conservative as a Christian?

I understand the use of these terms in political dialogue, but have a harder time understanding them in inter-Christian dialogue.

Is John Spong a liberal Christian because he is both politically and theologically “liberal”? Because he rejects traditional Christian ideas, I think, doesn’t make him liberal, it makes him heterodox.

One reason I’ve found these terms to be essentially useless is that in my own experience, some of the most theologically articulate, devout and firmly orthodox Christians I’ve had the pleasure of knowing have been called “liberal”; whereas I’ve met plenty of so-called “conservative” Christians who wouldn’t know traditional Christian faith if it fell on their head like a ton of bricks.

I’ve met plenty of “conservative” Evangelicals who certainly fit the mold of stereotypical American Evangelicalism who, in my discussions with them over theology, come across as holding to fairly heterodox positions. A classic case-in-point are “conservative” Evangelicals who are either completely ignorant of, or sometimes even actively hostile to the orthodox, traditional Christian belief in the resurrection of the dead.

In recent years I’ve increasingly been told that I’m among these “liberal” Christians, though I’m not sure how. My faith has always–and no doubt will continue to be–a work in progress. My aim, however continues to be consistent, to follow Christ, to challenge my preconceived ideas, and be willing to study, read, pray and seek the guiding of the Holy Spirit and the counsel of the Christian Church. I’m not content assuming I have everything figured out, but I am ardent about seeking to be faithful.

I don’t consider myself “liberal”, but I have over the years lost interest in identifying myself as “conservative”. Any allegiance I once had to the Theo-Political machine of the American Religious Right has thoroughly vanished, though I hold no ill will toward those who are part of this organism, I do see the ideology and policies of the Religious Right as viral and infectious, and not to mention fatal to the spiritual health of the Christian Church in America.

So exactly what function or purpose do terms like “liberal” or “conservative” have in inter-Christian discussion? What does it even matter? Is faithfulness to Christ circumscribed by fidelity to conservative American politics? When so much about conservative American politics seems to be deeply antagonistic against the ethos and ministry of Jesus, how can this be so? This is not to say that liberal American politics are any better, seems like both sides of the political divide are pretty problematic insofar as what Jesus has to say. Wouldn’t a better, and far more Christian, politic be to take what Jesus has to say, even if Jesus forces us to repent of our most strongly cherished ideas, and work from there?

I’m not advocating Christian politics in the typical sense, but rather a Christian alternative to American politics that is still quite political. Christianity is political. Not because it’s liberal or conservative, but because it’s Christian. Shouldn’t a Christian response to those things happening in our culture be, in fact, Christian? Neither conservative nor liberal, but Christian. Following the Way of Christ, even if that means forsaking the idols of Elephant and Ass.





Ubuntu

3 04 2008

Desmond Tutu The word ubuntu has its origin in the Bantu languages of sub-saharan Africa. The word ubuntu is very hard to translate directly into English, no single word truly captures its meaning. It is used to describe humanity, the reality of being human. It also translates into generosity. In a speech where Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former President Bill Clinton shared the platform, Clinton gave a literal translation of ubuntu as “I am because you are”.

Ubuntu is fundamental concept among many African peoples, and it represents a major way of thinking about yourself in relation to those around you and the world at large. It represents a way of understanding that you are fundamentally, not just connected with others, but that your own being is dependant upon others.

It seems to me that ubuntu is a powerful word and describes how we live to share in one another. To live beyond yourself and in others. To divest from yourself your own clinginess to being, and to offer youself for the sake of others, to live ekstatically (beyond or outside yourself). Indeed another way to translate ubuntu is “community”, which shares much in common with the Greek idea of konoinia, of sharing and having in common, of partnership and unity–communion.

I think ubuntu might just be one of those world-breaking concepts that can radically shift the very ways in which we perceive the entirety of our reality, especially for us who live in the West with our distorted view of individualism. We tend to have a very narrow and selfish view of individuality, rather than a broad and selfless view of individuality. We stress “my individuality” rather than investing ourselves into recognizing and cherishing individuals as they are, we look inward to ourselves rather than outward to others. We hoard our identity within, rather than share our identity without. Ubuntu, let me have my identity in you, the one that I cherish.

Ubuntu. I am because you are.

-Jon





Positive vs Negative Ethics

4 02 2008

Christians in America have (and are) been characterized by what they are against, rather than what they are for. This is generally a strange set of affairs as it seems, at least in my opinion, that Christianity has historically–especially in antiquity–been known for what it was for.

If it weren’t for the friggin’ Nazis I’d probably describe this contrast as Negative Christianity vs Positive Christianity, however the phrase “Positive Christianity” has its own definition invested by the sinister demagogues of the Nazi regime. Thus we’ll avoid that language altogether.

Rather than Christians defining their ethos in positive terms (i.e. what they are for), Christians have for some time now–at least on this continent–defined their ethos in negative terms.

I think this is a highly problematic ethos because in having a negative ethos rather than a positive one the ethical activity becomes, itself, negative. A positive ethos means an active positive ethical framework by which to act ethically. As opposed to reacting on the basis of a negative (e.g. being against) ethical framework.

A positive ethos would be this: Christians are for helping widows and orphans, taking care of the poor, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, advocating the liberation of the oppressed, welcoming the stranger and the outcast, loving one’s neighbor (including one’s enemies), blessing those who curse them, et cetera.

It ought to also include gender equality, racial equality, class equality, an authentic pro-life and pro-livelihood (in contrast to the fairly sterile anti-abortion ethic) ethic; being pro-justice (to restore and make right, not exact vengeance), et cetera.

This is, by no means, to say that our ethos should exclude the negative aspect, we should be against violence, against war, against injustice, inequality, bigotry, misogynism, and the like; but such negative ethics ought to only be there because of the already existing positive ones.

We ought to be known for what we are for, and only known for what we are against by contrast and comparison. If we are for peace, then that logically means we are against war. But we should be known for our pro-peace ethic and our activity to actually live-out peace into the world by the way we live our lives.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

-Jon