Discipleship

The Dynamic of Deuteronomy

As I referenced in my last post, I was privileged with the opportunity to travel to Grand Rapids, Michigan in order to attend a tremendous conference entitled A Missional Reading of Scripture. I am thrilled to report that this conference exceeded my expectations and I am confident in expressing such excitement because I am still (and will continue to do so in the coming weeks) processing through the all the insight, stories, and concepts that were presented throughout the course of the two-day conference.

The conference was a nice vacation for me (which sounds strange to some of you, I realize). Thankfully, I was able to travel with some dear friends with whom I laughed and maintained a consistent dialogue about all that we were learning/grappling with. It was a great conference because each speaker enfolded their hearers into different aspects of the biblical narrative – keying in on different moments, situations, and stories that all participate in this greater story, which they might call The Mission of God in History.

I was thankful to have the chance to meet some of these speakers and even talk to them ever-so-briefly. The main argument (perhaps the assumed argument) of the conference was that the mission of God is the main lens through which we look in order to understand and experience the entirety of the biblical narrative. All of the speakers are convinced that the mission of God is the premier narrative of the Bible and thus gives form and understanding to every story, situation, and crevice that the Bible puts forth. I have previously been slightly skeptical of a “one – main – narrative” reading of Scripture, but this conference has furthered my assurance about the mission of God being the main lens through which we read all of Scripture. If you have questions or comments about this, please let me know – I would love to discuss this with you (and it would be helpful to me)!

As I stated before, there were four main speaker sessions and there were three workshops and for each workshop slot there were three options from which we chose. I chose the following workshops: Church for the Thriving World: Preaching Deuteronomy Missionally, Missional Plurality: A Hermeneutic of Christian Witness, and Missional Spirituality. I enjoyed all of these workshops thoroughly and they were all equally challenging in different ways. I especially appreciated the workshops on Deuteronomy and Missional Spirituality mainly because I felt that they spoke specifically to the season I currently inhabit.

A guy named Mark Glanville  taught this workshop and I sincerely appreciated the combination of his tender personality and academic rigor that were apparent during the course of the workshop. He supplied all of the attendees with an outline for a sermon series on Deuteronomy and other notes for which I am very grateful. The main thrust of this workshop was about framing Deuteronomy in a particular manner. Glanville explained a three part dynamic that we see in Deuteronomy that, he argued, is evidenced throughout Scripture and directly applicable to the church at large today. The three part movement that he explained was as follows:

  1. God has given generously
  2. His people with respond with thanksgiving and rejoicing
  3. Thanksgiving results in generosity, justice and inclusion

    Famous painting of Moses by Rembrandt

    Famous painting of Moses by Rembrandt

This was the three part movement that Glanville proposed as the central theme to Deuteronomy and the rhythm that our churches need to recover. This dynamic is expressed in Deuteronomy through a fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel concerning land, the flourishing of Israel, and ultimately that God would “bless Israel to be a blessing” to the surrounding nations. This is evident in Deuteronomy and in a lot of ways, evident in the rest of Scripture too! Deuteronomy is all about Israel being put on display for the sake of the nations. The law, the land, and God’s blessing were not an end in themselves, but instead were for the sake of the nations. God’s intention was that the nations might know God through Israel’s witness to him as the one, true God… Amazing stuff.

I am now reading through Deuteronomy once again (by the way, when I first became a Christian, I remember pronouncing this book as “Dutronomy” – things like that are funny to look back on) and I am continually finding the themes that Glanville proposed. Today I read this verse in Deuteronomy 12:

There in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your families shall eat and rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the Lord your God has blessed you.

In verse 7 of chapter 12 we see God’s blessing, Israel’s rejoicing, and Israel “putting their hand” to justice and generosity. This verse is a timely message for our holiday season. As we approach the eve of Thanksgiving and draw near to the season of Advent, be sure to meditate on all that God has blessed you with so that you might respond with rejoicing and generosity.

Opening to The Valley of Vision

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The Valley of Vision is a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions. I recently purchased a copy of this collection and was struck by the simplicity and profundity of the opening prayer:

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live int he depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
That to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in thy daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
And the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;
Let me find thy light in my darkness,
thy life in my death,
thy joy in my sorrow,
thy grace in my sin,
thy riches in my poverty,
thy glory in my valley.

Befriending Weakness

Are you befuddled by the title of this blog? That’s appropriate. I know that in the world we live in this sounds rather counterintuitive, but doesn’t the term weak aptly depict us humans? Aren’t we fragile people who are naturally dependent beings? We do not like to think that we are, but perhaps it is a more accurate description of our true state. I can presume that not all of you who read this will agree with that statement but hopefully by the end of reading this you will understand what I mean.

Vulnerability is not something we like all that much, even when the circumstance consists of vulnerability or honesty with ourselves. Weakness is a horror to some and not able to be tolerated. It is hard to tolerate the weakness and fragility in ourselves because people have told us that 1) we are not allowed to weak/we won’t make it in this world if we are found to be fragile or 2) that we must compensate for our weaknesses by becoming strong and powerful in order for society to accept and make use of us. Above all of this is the haunting reality that many of us have not been shown love when we have openly borne our weaknesses (instead we have been rejected when we have shown our true selves). When we realize that we cannot tolerate our own weakness we will also soon find that it is impossible to rekon with the weakness in others (be it our friends, family, spouse etc…). Sadly, we see this only when we first recognize that we judge others by the same hoops that we force ourselves to jump through. The aim of our culture is to ignore or relieve ourselves of all weaknesses we experience so that we are left with nothing but strengths. But again, fragility is not something that can be turned on or off but rather something that exemplifies our humanity.

I love this article by N.D. Wilson in Christianity Today. In it he states that the world we live in is “at odds with human self-importance”. Wilson takes a look at the intellectuals of today and uses them to show our delusional attempts to make the world about us. He uses intellectuals as an example to show that humans are desperately afraid to find out that they are far more weak and fragile than they ever dared to realize. Wilson proposes this because intellectuals often partake in the work of intellectualizing in order to tame, not the world (for it cannot be tamed), but rather “their perception of the world”. We philosophize and fixate over the smallest of matters to feel in control and escape to fantasy of reality. This is Wilson’s point. The fact that fantasy is reality scares us and contributes to our feelings of smallness and helplessness. Those feelings torment, but those feelings point the reality that we are often to afraid to face: we are far more weak than we ever dared imagined. In essence, Wilson states that our world is one where humans live out of control and it is our attempts to tame the world that point to our inability to stare into the face of our fragility.

We are afraid to find out how weak, fragile, and dependent we are but it is only logical when you begin to think about it. Maybe words from the Apostle Paul will help, “For what makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you did not?” Paul is right, I think. We did not choose to be born, nor the parents or siblings who surrounded us. We didn’t get the choice to exist not will we get the choice of death. It is going to happen and we have no choice in the matter. We flaunt our accomplishments and accolades as if that makes us safe from the inevitable reality of our fragility, but it doesn’t. We will never escape the fact that everything we have has been given to us and thus by nature we are dependent/weak beings. We aren’t as autonomous as we’d like to hope we are.

It is strange, but Jesus and Paul (and other New Testament writers) both seem to explain that Life comes from the realization that we are indeed weak and fragile beings. It is a realization that the delusional regimes of being in control and being strong are not actually true even though they may be attractive. True life and true humanity come from surrender and a recognition that we need help. It is interesting when we truly begin to see Christianity in this light. It changes how we interact with our weakness and with the weaknesses of those around us.

If we begin to see that weakness is actually a way unto life then it is no longer a horror but something through which we can meet God. We no longer have to live under the presumption that we are our own creator nor that we are strong when we know that within the deeper recesses of our heart we actually aren’t. Human weakness and fragility is the way unto the cross of Christ and it is where we meet Jesus. Like Wilson says, our attempts to run from this reality are many. Why not sit and allow yourself to know that you are weak and simultaneously loved by God. That reality should trump all false illusions about who we in age that tempts us to act as our own god and flee from our own fragility.

For further thoughts on this, check out this video.

Contemplating Pacifism

I just finished reading the memoirs of Stanley M. Hauerwas and through them he has got me thinking a lot about a number of different things. First though, I just have to say that I love memoirs like this one. There is something about the narrative of a persons life that draws me in deeper than any theologically or historically abstract book. I love the type of history that is not general or fragmented, but rather a history that fulfills its most fundamental focus- that is, to tell the story of people in this world. In any case, I felt that Professor Hauerwas did that quite well in his memoirs as he attempted to tell his story in a truthful fashion. One of my favorite lines of the book is the first sentence in the introduction in which he states “I did not intend to become Stanley Hauerwas”. That is a profound and humbling line is it not? He takes little credit for who he has become and renounces the presumption that our modern world takes for granted, that is that we are our own creator. I felt that that sentence resonated throughout the book as he told his story in humility and in truth.

The book taught me a lot, but one of things that I find myself with wrestling with is how it is that he became a Christian pacifist. Hauerwas is one of the few theologians who is a self-proclaimed pacifist. To be honest, pacifism and violence are not things that I have thought about much in my life, and I can’t recall a sermon or a bible study ever being focused on this topic either. In any case, Hauerwas is a proponent of non-violence not because he thinks it nice and comfortable but because he believes that what we see in Christ’s death leads us to be peacemakers in the world. This is hard for me, especially since I have been heavily influenced by Bonhoeffer in this realm. They are not necessarily at odds, but there is certainly tension there. I think that part of the problem with the churches lack of conversation about this stuff is perhaps our lack of presence in the public sphere of everyday life. We see Christianity as an alternative lifestyle and not as alternative politic, which leads us to think that it is a private and personal matter, but it certainly is not. Christianity is an alternative politic and has to influence how we think about justice, pacifism, and just war. The conversation of pacifism and just war is a conversation that many need to have within the church. We need to reflect on the fact that God did not seek to save the world through violence, but rather took our violence upon himself. How might this reality inform the church?

Don’t these questions also inform what we believe justice to be? I have to admit that I am confused about what justice is anymore…is it revenge? Is it bringing the world to rights? Is it feeding the poor and helping the homeless? I know that our government has a particularly troubling view of justice, which seems to have many parallels with vengeance and things of that nature. I am far from any particular resolution, but I am thankful for Hauerwas and how he has guided me through these questions. I feel that these questions are important, and hopefully this brief post will help you to begin thinking and talking about them. Here is a brief post by Hauerwas on Christian pacifism to get you started.

The False Self

Have you ever seen the movie Into the Wild? I have always placed it as my all-time favorite movie, but to be honest, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the two Sherlock Holmes movies are in the running as well. Into the Wild is based on a true story of a man named Christopher McCandless, who graduated from college and from there left everything in his possession behind (even went as so far to burn his social security card). He was on a pilgrimage and his destination was Alaska. He was a deep thinker who had thoughtful and meaningful questions about life. One of the things I admire about him was that he did not simply swallow the answers his culture fed him. He was a radical no doubt, and although he realized at the end of his life that his initial conclusions were wrong, the journey that he took was a precious one. When Christopher finally arrived and had spent some time in Alaska alone, he carved these words on a piece of wood:

Two years he walks the earth. No phone, no pool, no pets, no20130318-173123.jpg cigarettes. Ultimate freedom. An extremist. An aesthetic voyager whose home is the road. Escaped from Atlanta. Thou shalt not return, ’cause “the West is the best.” And now after two rambling years comes the final and greatest adventure. The climactic battle to kill the false being within and victoriously conclude the spiritual pilgrimage. Ten days and nights of freight trains and hitchhiking bring him to the Great White North. No longer to be poisoned by civilization he flees, and walks alone upon the land to become lost in the wild

His ultimate goal in this spiritual pilgrimage was to kill the “false self” within. It is a noble pursuit certainly, and in some ways I think it is the pursuit of the Christian as well. What I am particularly interested in as of late though is what perpetuates the need for the false self? Why do we tend to keep the multiplicity of masks and to show ourselves to others as something we are not? This happens both in and out of the church, but it is particularly troubling when it happens within a believing community. The church is a place for self-proclaimed wounded healers and nothing more. Out of the awareness of our brokenness and the love lavished on us by God we are to be healers in the world. The question remains: Why do we struggle with perpetuating the false self to deceive others and ourselves of who we really are? My one thought for this blog is this: how we have been received by people in the deep of our bad has shaped whether or not we abandon the false self or keep it around to guard from the further wounding that could come from revealing to others who we truly are.

I suppose what I am getting at specifically is how we have been received when/if we confess our sin to another (although the above idea could be applied to more than that) human being. What we have received from people when we reveal our true nature determines a lot about us I am afraid. I think it goes back to how we were raised, and how we were disciplined by our parents as well. Have you been met with disdain, bitterness and punishment or with unending grace and love? It something worth reflecting on, because all of this in turn affects what we project onto to God, too. My favorite dead person, Dietrich Bonhoeffer says this about confession:

The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody conceals his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone in our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!

I love Bonhoeffer in this and everywhere else. To break the cycle of perpetuating the false self we need people in our who are willing to be an extension of Jesus’ grace and mercy. Just like Jesus, we need to be people and include people in our lives who are compassionate and therefore like Nouwen states, “for them, nothing human is alien”. We fear being unloved in the deep of our bad, and yes we are deeply loved by Jesus, but part of being loved by Jesus is experiencing this reality in community. It is only the person who is an extension of Christ’s grace who can hear the sin of another and have compassion on that person and speak to them the truth of profound grace and reassurance. We need that in our churches in order to curb the false self that keeps trucking along without any interruption. We can come out of hiding to be exposed yet simultaneously fully embraced. I think the killing of the false self begins by throwing it off and locating people who will mirror and reflect how Jesus receives us.