Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Where is God in the Telling of Our Stories?

Over the past couple of weeks I have been reflecting on being open to God’s Story and Vision in my life.  How do I go about living not just for myself, but being part of what God is doing in the world? 

In reflecting on this, I realize that how open I am is dependent upon how I tell my story, particularly who I see as the main character in my story.

I was recently engaged in such a conversation involving how we go about telling our stories in serving as a reader for a Doctor of Ministry oral exam for a student of mine who was in a doctoral seminar I taught at Perkins School of Theology a couple of summers ago.

We were talking about using contemporary stories, even fairy tales, for getting into Scripture – God’s Story and Vision.  For many people, gaining access to Scripture is a difficult thing because we have a particular understanding, or perhaps, misunderstanding of God.  We have a low or negative view of Scripture because of how we perceive God, and so Scripture becomes foreign, even antithetical or our life experiences. 

But in reframing an understanding of God through identifying with characters in other stories, films, fairy tales, etc., we come to discover a fresh understanding of God’s nature and how God is expressed through stories such as the Prodigal Son and other parables, or Jesus’ engagement with people in need.  And then in the midst of this dialogue, a comment was made that had a tremendous impact upon me for framing how we speak about our stories as the people of God.

In being a people who are growing in our attending to God, in our being open to God, are we the main character in our stories, or is God the main character?  We tend to get it reversed.  In describing our spiritual experiences, our life stories, we almost always make ourselves the main character of our own stories – but if we begin to have ears and eyes that are open to what God is doing in the world, we begin to realize that it is God, rather than us, who is the main character even in our own stories. 

What so radically changes my perspective is coming to realize that even in my own life story, I am not the one who is changing me.  God is changing me – especially as I open myself to God.  God is active in me to draw myself to him; God is working out God’s purposes in me; God is more interested in me than I am interested in me.  God is indeed the main character in the development of my story.  In response, God then becomes the main character in the telling of my story, because God has invited me into the Story and Vision that God is unfolding in the world that God is healing, reconciling, restoring, and making new.

In telling our stories in which God is the main character, we come to realize that we are worshiping God and pointing to God who is and always will be gracious to us – earthen vessels, broken and cracked jars, through whom God is making all things new.  God is unfolding God’s Story and Vision through the ordinary human lives – now that is a story worth sharing.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Place of Jesus in Convesation with Other Faiths

Over the past few weeks in the Adult class of Sunday School we have been talking about Christianity and Islam, and I am sure I am sounding a bit like a broken record in that I do not want to lose Jesus in the conversation.  Often in trying to find common ground with those who believe differently, we think the kind or tolerant thing to do is to avoid bringing up that which is particular to us and thereby creating controversy.  But for me Jesus is no mere idea.  To relegate him as an optional idea in conversations with those of other faiths is to distort what it means for us to be followers and disciples of Jesus Christ.  I believe Jesus Christ to be Lord; he is the God of Abraham who became human to reconcile humanity to the Godhead and to one another.  Without such a foundation, I believe we have nothing much to offer in a conversation with other faiths.

Perhaps something Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, stated in an article we are considering in our Sunday morning Adult class dialogue next week, Fundamentalism and the Modern World, speaks to our need for us to be more expressive and articulate of our convictions, rather than less so – yet this does not mean we need to become more arrogant or listen less when we are in conversation.  Though, in the article he is talking about fundamentalism, it need not be limited to fundamentalism, but can include the expressing of our faith convictions.

“Conventional wisdom suggests that the antidote to religious fundamentalism is more secularism. That's a very big mistake. The best response to bad religion is better religion, not secularism. The traditions we are looking at are religions of the book, and the key question is, how do we interpret the book? In Christian faith, we have the interpretation of Martin Luther King Jr. and also that of the Ku Klux Klan. Better interpretation of the book, in my view, is a better response to fundamentalism than throwing the book away (Wallis, “Fundamentalism and the Modern World,” Sojourners).”

Further, he states, “Fundamentalism, it is often said, is taking religion too seriously. The answer, in this view, is to take it less seriously. That conventional wisdom is wrong. The best response to fundamentalism is to take faith more seriously than fundamentalism sometimes does.”

I believe, in engaging others in conversation, we are being called to know much more deeply what we believe and why we believe – not to win arguments, but to understand more deeply the God who has come among us in order to restore all creation.  The challenge to us is not whether we speak about Jesus or not, or how we can soften our commitment to Jesus, but rather, how we express Jesus with the same love that God has for all the world.  It was out of love for the world that God came into the world as a Palestinian Jew to demonstrate his love for all humanity.  As the body of Christ, as Christ’s disciples, we as well need to speak of the living presence of Christ in a posture of love.  To talk about Jesus and to offer Jesus to the world – is not hate speech, nor is it to diminish others – rather it is to act in ways which God has already acted towards all humanity. 

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fidelity: Reflections on Following Jesus

Last Sunday we talked about how we as the people of God are called to live and demonstrate what it looks like to be human under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, as disciples of Christ, in the world.

There is so much that confronts us that in the midst of struggle, especially in our economic struggles, we tend to focus upon ourselves – life becomes about making a life for ourselves. But in seeing Jesus coming to the Church in Thyatira (Rev. 2: 18-29), we see that his eyes are ablaze and his feet burnished with bronze. These images of Christ Jesus remind me of John the Baptist declaring that Jesus will baptize us with the Spirit and fire (cf. Matthew 3: 11-12), which reveals that Jesus’ coming to us burns the “chaff” in our lives, in order for us to remain focused upon the calling within our lives. Furthermore, the image of bronzed feet reminds me of Isaiah 52:7, where expressed is, “how lovely on the mountain are the feet of them who bring good news.” Jesus’ coming is a coming bringing the light and life of the Gospel of God’s reign – to make all things news.

In all this, Jesus comes to us to remind us that our living is not about ourselves, and what we need to survive, but we are called, no matter how difficult life becomes, to live as the people of God, disciples of Jesus Christ, being a sign of God’s reign being present, being foretaste showing how human life is lived under the transformative rule of God, and being instrument – partnering with God in bringing about God’s reign, where God’s will is being done on earth as it is in heaven.

So then, how are we to live?

In our time of engaging Scripture, there was one thought that struck me deeply. We got talking about marriage and marriage struggles and the point that was being made was the importance of fidelity. Fidelity, faithfulness, enables a marriage to whether difficult times – it is when infidelity or unfaithfulness enters into a relationship that we find that the marriage suffers deeply – feelings of betrayal.

Likewise, in being called to be the people of God in the world, as the disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to live focused on the ways of God, the ways of Christ, to live our lives in faithfulness to him, in fidelity to him, living out his purposes, living in obedience to God’s will. This is our calling – Jesus comes to us with blazing eyes and bronzed feet to remind us that our living is not about ourselves, but what God is doing through us to redeem humanity and the earth. Life can easily distract us so that we focus upon ourselves, but daily we need to be open to be reminded through Jesus’ coming to live in fidelity to him, in faithfulness to Christ Jesus.

I came across this prayer this morning in my time of meditation:

“O Eternal God, though you are not such as I can see with my eyes or touch with my hands, yet give me this day a clear conviction of your reality and power. Let me not go forth to my work believing only in the world of sense and time, but give me grace to understand that the world I cannot see or touch is the most real world of all. My life today will be lived in time, my body will be clamant, but it is for the needs of my soul that I must care most. My business will be with things material, but behind them let me be aware of things spiritual. Let me keep steadily in mind that the things that matter are not money or possessions, not houses or lands, not bodily comfort or bodily pleasure; but truth and honor and meekness and helpfulness and a pure love of yourself.

For the power you have give me to lay hold of things unseen:
For the strong sense I have that this is not my home:
For my restless heart which nothing finite can satisfy:
I give you thanks, O God.

For the invasion of my soul by your Holy Spirit:
For all human love and goodness that speak to me of you:
For the fullness of your glory outpoured in Jesus Christ:
I give you thanks, O God.

I, a pilgrim of eternity, stand before you, O eternal one. Let me not seek to deaden or destroy the desire for you that disturbs my heart. Let me rather yield myself to its constraint and go where it leads me. Make me wise to see all things today under the form of eternity, and make me brave to face all the changes in my life which such a vision may entail: through the grace of Christ my Savior. Amen” (John Baille, A Diary of Private Prayer, 53).

Living and praying in this way is being faithful to Jesus Christ as people who have been called and sent by God, as Christ’s disciples to live revealing a different reality in the world.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Question: Is Jesus Personal to Us?

Last Sunday we engaged the question: How do we, you and I, listen to Jesus’ voice in our lives?

This continued the focus from the week prior in which we reflected upon being conscious of Jesus Christ as we go about living out our lives.

As I reflected on the above question, I asked another question:  Is Jesus personal to us?

I asked this question for two reasons:

One, if we listen and engage anyone in personal conversation, they need to be personal to us;
Likewise, if we are to hear Jesus’ voice as the primary voice in our lives – our engaging Jesus needs to be personal.

Second, I realize that in our normal conversations, we often do not name the name of Jesus and I wonder why that is.  We normally do name Jesus' name when we worship – in songs, in confessions, in prayers, in telling stories of Jesus to our children.  I realize that I contribute to this as well.  We talk about God, the Spirit, or of Christ (which tends to keep God a little at a distance).  We talk about the things like justice, peace, and mercy, creation care – things that Jesus is passionate about – but we don’t really speak of Jesus particularly, personally, using his name.  So why is that?
As I was reflecting on this further I came across a perspective offered by John Howard Yoder in The Priestly Kingdom: Social Ethics as Gospel.

Yoder presents the possibility that speaking of Jesus particularly and personally "embarrasses us" (p. 41).  It seems we want to speak about ethics and belief a little more universally, but being particular makes us look, or even feel, somewhat intolerant - so we are a little embarrassed. 

But Yoder has this to say:

"We need to doubt the focus upon the generalizability of ethical demands at the price of particular specifications, not only because all natural insight is fallen but because (to say it again in Christian terms) we confess as Lord and Christ the man Jesus.  Then the particular and the general cannot be alternatives.  The general cannot be arrived at by subtracting the particular.  Any embarrassment with particularity which seeks to get at the general that way is a denial of faith. 
     Now, there is nothing wrong with denying the faith if that is what you want to do.  Nobody has to believe.  Nobody who claims to 'believe' has to believe that Jesus Christ is Lord.  One of the reasons people deny the faith is, in fact (I suspect) that they think that everyone ought to have to believe; therefore they think that the meaning of belief must be adjusted so that it is acceptable or even irresistible to everyone.  That is why the sharp edges of particularity must be honed off.  One's own identity must be apologized for as the product of an irreducible, not culpable but not interesting, narrowness, so that what one commends to others is credible generally, untainted by the provincial.  Now I am embarrassed as anyone about the limits of my particularity.  I too had a post-Enlightenment education.  I can confess my culpability, personal and collective as male, as American, as Mennonite, as university employee, as property owner, as local church member, etc.  Yet none of this embarrassment can be covered for by imagining a less particular Jesus that the one in the story, or a less particular path today than to be one specific community rather than another" (pp. 43-44).

Rather than avoiding speaking about Jesus or naming Jesus' name in our conversations when we talk about living out our faith in life, we need to rediscover how we need to think and speak about Jesus in a pluralistic world.

Maybe we can learn to do this together as a community which has been called to be community by Jesus Christ.