North America

Dipping into the Donald Miller Discussion

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If you follow Donald Miller’s blog, entitled Storyline, you know that there has been quite a raucous concerning his two posts from a couple of weeks ago. I simply wanted to dip into some of Miller’s content and provide a couple of the responses that merely approach the main concern or question surrounding the ideas that Miller presented. I would also like to include some of my own affirmations and concerns with what Miller has put forth.

The first post was written sometime last week and was called I Don’t Worship God by Singing; I Connect with Him Elsewhere.  Perhaps this title is self-explanatory, but within this post Miller attempts to explain the alternatives to a “traditional” church model that he has begun to pursue. Miller elucidates these alternatives by sharing the ways in which he now seeks intimacy with God and how he learns about God. Miller explained that he rarely learns anything from hearing a sermon but rather from doing the teaching himself-he attributes this to the fact that he considers himself to be a  kinesthetic learner (learning by doing). In addition, Miller says that he experiences most intimacy with God through his work and building his company as apposed to singing in a worship service. Suffice it to say, this post created quite the domino affect.

The next response post he wrote a couple of days later and it was rather lengthy. The blog was entitled, Why I Don’t Go To Church Very Often-A Follow-Up Blog. This blog was primarily a response to some of the more concerning comments that he came across. I won’t take the time to surmise all of these here, but go ahead and give it a skim for reference and a deeper understanding of what Miller was referring to in his first blog.

Lastly, Miller wrote a blog yesterday as a third (and hopefully final) response to his original blog post. This blog post was entitled, Church Anywhere and Everywhere. I found this post to be the most clear in regard to where Miller’s heart resides. Although, I wouldn’t be surprised if you walked away from this post confused about where Miller stands. Here, Miller hones in on the doctrine of the Priesthood of all Believers and attempts to uphold it in order to provide a platform to support what his original blog post was intended to mean. He wonders, in this post, whether or not God has given us more responsibility and more authority (each of us, individually) than we have allowed ourselves to accept-hence the focus on the Priesthood of all Believers.

If you have at least skimmed through Miller’s posts then here are a couple responses for you to munch on as well:

Well, if you are still with me and want something more to think about (which, I highly doubt), then here are some of my personal thoughts on the topic.

I totally believe that there are some nuggets of wisdom in what Miller is offering up in these blogs, and I think there a lot of Christians who actually agree with him, but I think we must realize what is actually at stake here. At the heart of Miller’s blogs the question that needs to be asked is “Who is the Church?”. This is about the church’s identity and much less about alternative forms of worship or whether or not we should gather on a Sunday.

My main issue with Miller in these posts is that he does not seem to grapple with the robust vision that the New Testament offers for what the church is to be. If anything, Miller seems to be buying into the common misconception that American Evangelicalism has provided in recent years and that is that the church is to be centered around a weekly Sunday gathering. If we see church through this lens, we will always be seeing a cheapened version of what the church was actually meant to be and we will always be left discontent.

We miss the point of not only a Sunday gathering but who the church is when we limit it to hearing sermons and singing songs. I resonate with Miller’s restlessness in his desire to see the church to transcend the bounds of its Sunday gatherings and I agree! I simply don’t understand why he stops there and retreats to the rhythms that work for him. If the church is truly Christ’s bride, then we ought to hold her more dear and have a vision and a hope for who she is and who she can become. When we see that the church is not aligning with her identity found in Scripture then why we do continue to sit passively in our pews as if we have no influence. The church is continually being re-formed and that is ok-let’s engage in that process rather than retreating from it!

The New Testament confronts us with an intense perception of the church as a community that gathers to encourage, equip, and remember God together and then scatters in order to partner with God in reaching out and restoring the world. We need to re-read books like Ephesians to gain an understanding of the church that is not limited to a mere Sunday gathering, but a community that lives life alongside one another.

I appreciated Miller’s thoughts and glad he began the discussion and also glad that the responses I read were respectful and helpful. Hopefully this stuff gets you thinking!

Good Apart from Gifts

In our culture we tend to determine something or someone’s value by what they or it gives us. It sounds like a cynical statement, but if ever the statement has been true in the history of humanity, I suppose it is now. Let me explain. We live in a culture that disciples us to become more impatient, and increasingly desirous of immediate self-gratification and self-fulfillment. Our culture has commodified nearly everything and therefore things and people have become a product to be consumed to satisfy our longings while simultaneously furthering our self-absorbtion. It is because of this commodification of things and people that commonly held virtues (at least in America) have radically transformed. No longer are patience, self-control, or gentleness virtues that are commonly held and elevated among humanity. Mark Sayers (an author I am currently reading) writes that these virtues have undergone a dramatic shift from valuing “character” to valuing “cool”. Our culture is now far more captivated by what is sexy, cool, and glamerous rather than the virtues that seem rather “traditional” and “old-school” for our post-modern and “civilized” selves. We determine the value of things and people by what they give to us. All of this has been apparent to me for sometime, but I am realizing more lately how this cultural influence has affected me and discipled me in a way that is contrary to what it means to follow Christ.

Have you ever read the book of Habakkuk? It is a small book in the Bible of only 56 verses, and it is one of my favorites. God has taught me a lot through this book over the past year. It is a book that I truly cherish. Let me tell you, in brief, the story of Habakkuk:

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Habakkuk was a prophet (one who “speaks out”) before the Babylonian Exile, which probably places him sometime in the 7th or 8th century BC. Anyway, one time, Habakkuk had a little tussle with God, and by tussle I mean that they argued for a little while about something Habakkuk was struggling with. You see, Habakkuk was concerned for his people, Israel, because they had committed some wrongs and God thought it just and good to correct them and to punish them for their wrongdoing. It seems that that made sense to Habakkuk, but he was not convinced about how God wanted to punish Israel. God told Habakkuk that he wanted to use an unrighteous nation known as the Chaldeans (or the Babylonians) to correct Israel. This is where the argument ensued. Habakkuk initiated a correspondence with God where he complains and tries to understand how God could do such a thing. Habakkuk complains twice about God using this unjust and immoral nation, but the essence of God’s response to Habakkuk can be found in chapter 2 verse 4. He says to Habakkuk, “…but the righteous shall live by his faith”. That is the turning point of the book and after this Habakkuk goes on to deliver woe’s to the Chaldeans (I can see him muttering heated sentence fragments in a temper tantrum) after he realized that he won’t win this debate nor change God’s mind. In my opinion, the best part of the book happens in chapter 3 where Habakkuk (after delivering the dreadful woe’s to the Chaldeans) prays a prayer that is beyond description. There is a beautiful tension in his prayer that captures his current dissatisfaction with God’s decision and his buoyant trust in God. Habakkuk is dying to his own desires and his own understanding in this prayer and it is almost palpable. God is calling Habakkuk to an uncomfortable trust and therefore patience with the unfulfilled ideas, dreams, and desires that he had for Israel.

God has been teaching me about this through the crucible of support raising lately. Even though I am experiencing fruitfulness, he is showing me that He is good even apart from the gifts and the fulfillment of desires, ideas, or dreams that I have. I think Habakkuk is a good illustration of something that our culture no longer teaches us. In fact, the story of Habakkuk is an abrasive one compared to the narrative that we find ourselves in today. His narrative is one of trust, truth, and patience. The narrative of our culture is quite opposed to that, but I will let you think about HOW it is contrary. It has been a challenge to sift out how culture has shaped me in these areas, but I trust that there is life as I think through these things. As Ryan O’Neal of Sleeping at Last states in his song Naive, “God knows that I’ve been naive, but thinking makes him proud of me”. What can we learn from Habakkuk’s story about trust in God, being uncomfortable, unfulfilled desires, and patience? This story has helped me a lot and hopefully the summary of his story will help you as you think through these things.

Thoughts from Mark Sayers and Henri Nouwen

I appreciated this video from Mark Sayers. It is an encouragement to me as I continue to support raise and realize that it (support raising) is perhaps on the lower end of the scale in terms of “amazing”, “glamorous”, or “cool” things I could be doing with my life (whatever those things actually are). Maybe Mark is right in saying that the 20’s should be a time of character development instead of career development and the road to self-actualization by way of that career. I am not sure, but I know for me, the former is definitely the case! I am reading Mark’s book entitled, “The Vertical Self” right now and I highly recommend it! In the meantime, check out this video!

This video also reminds me of something Henri Nouwen has written. He speaks of God’s call and says,

As you come to realize that God is beckoning you to a greater hiddenness, do not be afraid of that invitation. Over the years you have allowed the voices that call you to action and great visibility to dominate your life. You still think, even against your own best intuitions, that you need to do things and be seen in order to follow your vocation. But you are now discovering that God’s voice is saying, “Stay home, and trust that your life will be fruitful even when hidden.” It is not going to be easy to listen to God’s call. Your insecurity, your self-doubt, and your great need for affirmation make you lose trust in your inner voice and run away from yourself. But you know that God speaks to you through your inner voice and that you will find joy and peace only if you follow it. Yes, your spirit is willing, but your flesh is weak.

Thankful to God for this time of greater hiddenness and season of forging character. Hope that this was helpful in some way!

“To each his own!” – What We Mean When We Say This

Have you ever heard someone say this to you in response to something you have decided to do or to say? What was your response when they said this? I have heard this a few times in my life and for some reason I can remember and recall the content of the conversation and who had uttered the phrase “to each his own”. Since my later years in high school, this phrase has irked me; you could call it a pet peeve or a conviction of sorts, but it doesn’t really matter what you call it. The reason it has irked me (which I realize might sound silly to some) is not because the semantics or the choice of words, but rather the sentiment that lies behind the statement.

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I am not sure if you have ever studied the period of time in European history known as the Enlightenment, but if you haven’t, I would recommend that you do so because it is one of those things in history that has had a tremendous impact on our Western world . For the time being, I will simply introduce you to some of the ramifications of this movement during the 18th century in Europe. The essence of the Enlightenment philosophy was an elevation of the human faculty of reason as the highest and most virtuous of human qualities. The aim of the enlightenment was to create a people who were free (this is evident in our Declaration of Independence). What was it that people were to be free from? The Enlightenment was a movement that attempted to free people from the restrictions of tradition and community and move the spotlight on the individual who was the one who contained natural rights and the freedom to fashion their own future. Thus, there was a certain detachment that the Enlightenment created from other people (community) and from history (tradition). My good friend, Stanley Hauerwas, writes this about the impact of the Enlightenment on today’s modern culture:

Yet most modern ethics begin from the Enlightenment presupposition of the isolated, heroic self, the allegedly rational individual who stands alone and decides and chooses. The goal of this ethic is to detach the individual from his or her tradition, parents, stories, community, and history, and hereby allow him or her to stand alone, to decide, to choose, and act alone.

I think that the phrase “to each his own” actually perpetuates this Enlightenment type of thinking and tends to support the detachment from community and history that our modern culture aptly personifies. First, the community. Every time that I have heard this phrase spoken it has felt as if the person saying it has little care for understanding who I am. Also, while they are in the process of saying these four words they simultaneously seem to be in the process of detaching themselves from me. Does it not seem that way to you too? The sentiment behind this statement keeps people from a true knowledge of one another and thus keeps them at arms length. Just as well, it forfeits the opportunity to dig into life with other people; to know deeply and to be deeply known. This sentiment, birthed from the age of the Enlightenment, says “You do what you want to do and I will do what I want to do, and everything will be cool” or “Just make sure not to infringe on my individuality and we will be ok”. Our culture has a inflated view of the individual and it keeps us from real community and deep relationships and I think these ideas are found in such statements like “to each his own”. We are far too content with remaining strangers with family, friends, and those we deem apart of our community.

Second, the deeper meaning of this phrase tempts to detaches us from history and tradition. As a lover of history, I despise this idea because no matter how hard we try to separate ourselves from the past (whether it be our parents, our personal story, or from the far-removed ancients) the more we realize how inextricably connected we are to everyone and everything that has come before us. We are not individuals that are isolated from the people and events that came before us and whether we acknowledge it or not, most of our life is a reaction to what cane before us. It is ironic that we wish to detach ourselves from history when the very idea of individualism taking center stage and tradition or history entering backstage is a direct product of a historical happening! It was the philosophy of the Enlightenment!

At this point you may be wondering why any of this actually matters. Well, I am particularly passionate about these ideas (and openly critical of them) because they have no room in the community of people called the church. The church is a community of people where strangers come to stop being strangers and where those with no story come to realize that they are indeed apart of a story. In the church I cannot see any room for sentimentalities that propose detachment from each other or from history. The church must be a body where people no longer remain strangers to each other nor remain detached from the history and tradition. Therefore, there can be no throwing around of such phrases as “to each his own”. This sentiments has the potential to estrange us from our community and the story of humanity. The church and its practices should oppose Enlightenment thinking and leave behind phrases such as “to each his own” that bring about a worship of the individual. How do we do this? Great question. Thinking would be a good place to start…but don’t think alone, think with others :).

P.S. I welcome all critiques, clarifications, and comments on this matter!