"Having a blog is like wandering around your house naked with the windows open; it's all very liberating until someone looks in the window. However, while being caught unawares is one thing, it is quite another to stroll up to the window and press your naked, flabby body against the coolness of the glass in a hideous form of vertical prostration for all the world to see..." These posts are the smudges that are left behind on the window.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

No Pigs Allowed

And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.” And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters. The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed men. And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region. (Matthew 8:28-34 ESV)
If you've gone to church very much at all, this is a familiar story. I have always wondered why Jesus was begged to leave, and why he sent the demons into the pigs.

It is unclear if these particular people were Jewish. And, if they were, what were they doing with pigs in the first place? Perhaps there is more to this story than meets the eye.

Jesus seldom did, or said anything that didn't have several layers of meaning. It occurred to me the other day that perhaps this was a living parable.

We as Christians tend to live our lives knowing that we aren't perfect; that there are all sorts of things wrong with the way we live the Christian life. We are willing to see, and admit to the common, acceptable, and perhaps visible wrongs in our life such as; jealousy, anger, selfishness etc. But when we start to let Jesus really work in our lives, he starts to point out the not so obvious things: things we may have buried so deep that we don't even see them, things that define us, and, sometimes things that have even been sanctioned by the church.

The pigs in our life.

And sometimes this becomes too much. We just want him to leave. To leave us and our life, and let us go back to living our comfortable, predicable lives. We're fine just the way we are - thank you very much - and we beg him to leave. But if we are serious about following Christ, we have to let him not only exorcise the demons that we can see, we have to let him get rid of the pigs that we don't see. We have to get rid of non-loving things like our attitudes towards gays and lesbians, people of differing religious beliefs, or that difficult person at work. They have to rush down the bank and into the sea.

Attitudes like this have no place in the Kingdom of God - just like a Jew had no business with a herd of pigs.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Everybody Hates Karl

Karl Barth, for those that don't know, was a German Theologian in the early 20th century - a contemporary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I have read many quotes from Barth and couldn't figure out what all the fuss was - he seemed to make a lot of sense to me. From what I heard, we evangelicals hated Barth - or were supposed to hate Barth. So, never being one to conform, I bought one of his books, and having the tremendous grasp of the obvious that I do, quickly realized what the problem was.

Here are a few excerpts from his chapter on Free Grace;
Strange Christianity, whose most pressing anxiety seems to be that God's grace might prove to be all to free on this side. That hell, instead of being populated with  many people, might some day prove to be empty! ...
Even in the midst of hell, grace would still be grace, and even in the midst of hell it would have to be honored and praised and therefore announced to the other inhabitants of hell...
We must reckon with the fact that [grace] can always be at work outside the walls of the Church and can be announced even by quite other tongues than those which have been given to us. Its being so free brings fresh air again and again into the Church. We need this fresh air, and we should not try to shut it out with the holy games of our churchly speaking and behavior...
We ought not to act as if we knew this or that, even in an elementary way, when we are only guessing. That God's grace is free grace will be impossible for us to overlook at this point,.... But this much is sure: it is also here, and precisely here it is grace. We know just one thing: that Jesus Christ is the same also in eternity, and that His grace is whole and complete, enduring through time into eternity, into the new world of God which will exist and be recognized in a totally different way, that it is unconditional and hence is certainly tied to no purgatories, tutoring sessions, or reformatories in the hereafter...
One cannot deal with the free grace of God the way one can deal with a principle. The heralds of free grace cannot advertise themselves as, or behave like, purveyors of a principle. In fact they must deny the "human self-assurance" which seeks to "put the lord's word and work to the service of any arbitrarily chosen wishes, goals and plans”. The message of free grace has never remained pure, has always been perverted into its opposite when it has been put into some sort of service or framework which is foreign to it, whether worldly or spiritual, philosophical or theological, ...
If the Church does not love the message of free grace (if it stands apart from people with too many scruples, if it meets them with too many reproaches), if it is afraid of that message and is too pious and moralistic for people - what is the Church then? Nothing, nothing at all!
I can see why we evangelicals are supposed to hate Barth; he completely undermines our dualistic, us vs them mentality. He says things like; "Jesus Christ is the same today, tomorrow and forever", where's that in the bible! (insert sarcasm emoticon here). And worse than that he agrees with such obvious heretics as CS Lewis.

Seriously though, what an incredible freedom and relief of pressure, to have the ability to say "I don't know". That even if a loved one died without "knowing Christ" that you do know that God's grace is forever. That there may be validity to someone else's point of view. That we don't have to have all the answers. That God loves everyone, no matter what, or when. Maybe then we evangelicals could relax, and just love people for who they are. Now that would be good news!

I hope Karl is right.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

An empty cup of tea

Th Master Nan-in had a visitor who came to inquire about Zen, but instead of listening the visitor kept talking about his own ideas. After awhile Nan-in served tea. He poured tea into his visitors cup until it was full. Then he kept pouring. Finally the visitor could not restrain himself, "Don't you see it's full?"he said. "You can't get anymore in." "Just so", replied Nan-in, stopping at last. "And like this cup you are filled with your own ideas. How can you expect me to give you Zen unless you offer an empty cup?"

I think we as evangelicals are very much like this cup of tea, especially if we've been in the church all our lives. We know all the answers, we've been told what to believe. We've been told that we have all the knowledge, and that even though there may be other traditions who seem to sincerely believe that, "they are sincerely wrong".  Our cups are so full and overflowing that not only can we not get anymore in, we can't even move the cup to someplace useful.

Mark Buchanan has just put out another book, "Your Church is too Safe". Mark is a good writer, who pastors out of British Columbia. His books try to get Christians to think outside the box, at least a little, although I don't know how successful he is - he might be a bit too subtle. In an excerpt from this latest book, he makes two distinctions between the definitions of the words Traveler / Tourist and Disciple / Believer.

Traveler literally means "one who travails." He labours, suffers, endures. A traveller.. ...gets impregnated with a new and strange reality, grows huge and awkward trying to carry it, and finally, in agony, births something new and beautiful. To get there, he immerses himself in a culture. learns the language and customs, lives with the locals, imitates the dress, eats what's set before him. He takes risks, some enormous, and makes sacrifices, some extravagant. He has tight scrapes and narrow escapes. He is gone along time. If he ever returns, he returns forever altered...
A tourist, not so. Tourist means, literally, "one who goes in circles." He's just takes an exotic detour home. He's only passing through, sampling wares, acquiring souvenirs. He tastes more than he eats what's put before him. He retreats each night to what's safe and familiar. He picks up a word here, a phrase there, but the language and the world it's imbedded in, remains opaque and cryptic, and vaguely menacing. He spectates and consumes. He returns to where he comes from with an album of photos, a few momentos, a cheap hat. He's happy to be back. He declares there's no place like home...
....At some point we stopped calling Christians disciples and started calling then believers. A disciple is one who follows and imitates Jesus. She loses her life in order to find it. She steeps in the language and culture of Christ until his word and his world reshape hers, redefine her, change inside and out how she thinks and dreams and, finally, lives....
...A believer, not so. She holds certain beliefs, but how deep down these go depends on the weather or her mood. She can get defensive, sometimes bristlingly so, about her beliefs, but in her honest moments she wonders why they've made such a scant difference....
... You can't be a disciple without being a believer. But - here's the rub - you can be a believer and not a disciple. You can say all the right things, think all the right things, believe all the right things, do all the right things, and still not follow and imitate Jesus...
...The Kingdom of God is made up of travellers, but our churches are largely populated with tourists. The Kingdom is full of disciples, but our churches are filled with believers.

I would hope it isn't happening in Mark's church, but the issue that I see is that those in the pews  are being filled to overflowing with the notion of being a tourist-believer. This is exactly where the pulpit wants people, but it's not where God wants them. We have phrases like; 'this world's not my home; I'm just passing through; strangers in a strange land; be ye in the world not of the world (this last one has been mis-read for centuries to justify the previous ones. Taken in it's proper context it has nothing to do with separating yourself from the world).

Those of us who are serious about being Traveler-Disciples need to take our cup to the sink, dump it out, and start letting God - and only God - fill it back up again. When God fills our cup, there's always room for more; more of him and more of others.