Waiting for the Muse?

The blank page stares back. I’m trying out figure out what to write. This is agony but I write nonetheless. The blockage, the obstacle or as Steve Pressfield in The War of Art calls it, resistance, tries to stop me. I press on. I write even though I have no clear idea. It slowly becomes a matter of discipline.

Disciplines, the developing of habits, doing something religiously, all lead you to the place of kicking resistance in the teeth. Peace is not an option in this one place. The struggle can lead to a place of peace even in the fight. The struggle is life long and ever persistent. Resistance is insidious. I’m beginning to think it is part of our fallen nature.

Fear is the greatest resistance in my life. I’m getting to a place of not caring any more. I will write and fail. Some of it will be profound much may be drivel. Regardless, I face my fear, get my ideas written and move on to the next thing. I do not fear judgment but I’m open for constructive criticism. I do not fear rejection but embrace failing and learning from it. I do not fear others’ opinions but rest in the opinion my Creator has of me.

I ultimately seek to tap into the divine creative Spirit. This is a high challenge for Christians in the creative realm. A great deal of Christian art does no justice to the God of creation because it takes the creative act too lightly. Much too often the creative work done is superficial, preachy and insipid. When salt loses its flavor…This might be the reasons so many roll their eyes at ‘Christian’ movies and so on. The creative act is an act of passion. Creativity must embrace that passion and the unexpected ways the Spirit will lead. You and those around you might be surprised at how it turns out. The grace of God is a wild and marvelous gift.

Grace and peace,

JWR

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Easter and the Newness of Each Day

Easter Sunday is here and with it the Easter egg hunts, chocolate bunnies and baskets filled with sugary treats. Yet even in the midst of the sugar high most children will be under, a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ will occur worldwide. This one day the global church remembers the raising from the dead of the crucified Christ. The celebrations will take many forms from the solemn ritual of the Mass in Catholic churches to the exuberant worship in Pentecostal churches. Others will wake early to worship as the sun rises on a new day. Nevertheless, why limit the celebration to just one day?

This is not to downplay the importance of Easter. The point for Christians is everyday can be a celebration by remembering resurrection daily. Within the Evangelical tradition, the greatest symbol of death and resurrection is baptism. Usually, this is a matter of full immersion or a dunking as some refer to it. Going under the water represents death and coming up from the water represents resurrection. Carried further, the death is that of one’s old life, broken and disconnected from God and the resurrection is the newness of life as a new creation.

The symbolism of death and resurrection reveals itself in another place that is more mundane but the figurative parallels remain. That symbol is the simple act of sleeping and waking. Sleep represents death and waking resurrection. Various places in scripture mention those who are dead as sleeping. Therefore, with our sleep at night, we shadow the reality of death. With our waking, we embrace the resurrected reality of a new day and new possibilities.

The difficulty of remembering the death and resurrection of Christ in this way is its happening everyday. The daily occurrence of it leads to a taking for granted of this mundane aspect of life. Developing such remembrance on a daily basis will take time like any habit. Pick a few days or a week to start. Meditate on the cross of Christ before sleeping and consider the resurrected Christ upon waking. Over time, every day can become a celebration of Easter.

Grace and peace,

JWR

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The Question of Evil

The question of evil, also known philosophically as the problem of evil, is a perennial dilemma within Christianity and the Abrahamic religions. Briefly stated, if God is loving and all powerful why is there evil and suffering? This past Sunday the Los Angeles Times had an article dealing with this problem as seen through the eyes of Vincent Bugliosi, an agnostic who is a former LA county prosecutor and has written a book, Divinity of Doubt that tackles this question. While having not read the book, I will address some points raised in the article.

One point he raises is, “according to Christianity, God, being all-powerful, could have stopped all of this [regarding the Holocaust]. But he apparently decided it was just fine with him.”  Here he has expressed the conception so prevalent in philosophy of religion and in some areas of theology. This is not the conception of God presented in the Bible. The suffering of humanity and the evil perpetrated by the same is the concern of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This God took on human flesh and suffered on a cross at the hands of religion and empire. This God is near in Spirit, who comforts and comes along side us in the midst of our sorrows.  Our brokenness is not “just fine” with God and he desires our healing and restoration.

He also states, in reference to the God of Christians, “…if they have any respect for logic, they’re going to have to redefine him.” Those with an Anselmian perspective of ‘faith seeking understanding’ may take Bugliosi to task regarding the rationality of the Christian faith. One can give reasons and justifications for religious belief in coherent ways. Alvin Plantinga’s “Free Will Defense” is a refutation of the logical problem of evil by appeal to human freedom and possibility and is widely accepted by many philosophers. The redefining of God is another matter. Defining reality, including God, is endemic to Western thought. Maybe we in the west should take a hint from those in the east and stop trying to define God. Maybe it’s more of a matter of being defined by God and responding accordingly. Of course, such redefining may not be amenable to Bugliosi.

Rationality has its place in the Christian faith but reason is not the only aspect of the faith. Some, like Tertullian, go the other direction of “I believe because it is absurd.” This is a facet of the Christian faith that embraces the mystery and ineffability of God. This approach to faith can provide a place for agnosticism because of the limits of reason. An investigation into the medieval mystics might provide some insights into the Christian faith in whicht Bugliosi might find some common ground.

Just on the surface, this challenge to God does not take into account the many facets of the Christian faith and the multiplicity of responses to the problem of evil. He seems to treat Christianity as a monolithic entity when in reality; the multifaceted expressions of the Body of Christ provides many answers, some better than others. The Body of Christ continues the earthly ministry of her head. If Jesus came to those who are blind, broken and poor, those subjected to evil; shouldn’t we continue the ministry of healing and proclamation of freedom? Do we want to participate in the work of God? Or do we stay content in our own little domain?

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Space for Questions

Within Christianity is a need for an open place for those with doubts, those with questions or those curious about Christian faith. The question is now, whether such a place should be opened in the Body of Christ or somewhere else? Some churches approach this as a missional opportunity. Some use the Alpha course. Some do a theology on tap or pub theology. Others may have a place in a coffee shop or a restaurant.Or some may have concurrent prayer meetings and question sessions at the church house.

Regardless of where it takes place, the space must be open, respectful and fearless. For some Christians, the thought of questioning matters of faith evokes fear and leads to a closing of the mind. This is a troublesome place to be since one of the great commandments is to love the Lord with your mind. Many places in scripture speak of the mind and need for turning, renewing and transforming (closing doesn’t seem to be an option). The open space to discuss big questions regarding faith can lead to spiritual transformation and a strengthening of faith. [The converse is true as well, some may leave the church and Christianity which might be the root of the fear.]

An open space like this can also provide an opportunity for those curious about Christian faith or maybe even hostile to Christianity. This is not necessarily a platform for Christian apologetics but a place for discussion of what one believes within Christianity and how it is worked out in one’s life. Rhetoric, incivility and vitriol should not find a place of prominence here but civility and open dialog and calm reflection. Disagreements are bound to occur but let respect reign supreme.

The key point in all this would be the emphasis on developing relationships and friendships. This is not for the sake of opening an opportunity to share the gospel, but rather for the relationship itself. This is more about being the gospel as opposed to presenting the gospel as something to be sold. The gospel is free yet costs us our life. We should be giving this gift away in and through our lives. The gospel is Christ, not a set of propositions, a series of scripture passages or the repetition of a certain type of prayer. Seems Jesus was open to questions so why can’t we?

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Question(s)

In the course of one’s life, you eventually will face the questions regarding life’s meaning. Why am I here? What is my life about? Does my life have meaning or is it all absurd? Is there a God? If so, what difference will it make in my life? If not, how shall I live my life? Granted with each person the depth and extent of one’s grappling with those questions will vary. In the life of a Christian, these questions take on a different meaning.

Many people turn to philosophy to answer the big questions of life. Philosophy at its root is the love (or friendship) with wisdom. Much of the work done seeks to justify claims regarding truth and knowledge. The disciplines of metaphysics and epistemology take on and reflect scientific methods to establish what is real and knowable. Although this is the common approach to analytic philosophy, other methods, like those available in Continental philosophy favor phenomenology and dialectic. In the end, both streams of philosophical thought can only go so far in answering the questions.

Theology on the other hand, seeks to get rather specific regarding the questions of life. While seeking to explain faith and belief in God, the theologian attempts to provide clarity and depth to the God question. Granted the answers given often reflect the church and traditions s/he is speaking from, Scripture and dogma also play a part often as the source of authority. To a certain extent, theology is partial and provisional. We do not have all the answers

In the midst of all the philosophy and theology, many are raising questions about church, faith, doctrine and so on. The emergent church poses some of the questions to get the conversation started. This is in part a response to communicate an ancient faith to the contemporary context. Philosophy of religion also plays a part, although diminishing in some circles, to examine the concepts within religion. The encouraging thing with both is that they seek to provide a place for: questions to be asked, doctrines to be reexamined, and concepts to be analyzed. This is a place for open conversation, respectfulness and even transformation.

Jesus Christ provides in his life, death and resurrection of a different set of questions. Instead of us asking the questions, we are the ones facing the question. It is the, “Who do you say that I am?” that was posed to the disciples. The question, “Will you follow me?” faces disciples both then and now. Therefore, we are the ones called into question. How do we answer? How do we follow? These questions are life changing. It is not for us to try to answer definitively, rather it is a matter of submitting to the One asking the question.

Grace and peace,

JWR

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Authority and abuse

This past Friday I watched the 20/20 report on the problems facing Independent Fundamental Baptist churches. The problems detailed range from troublesome to repugnant. Outside of the abuse and damage meted out in the various situations, the abuse of authority by those in leadership is truly disheartening.  On the one hand, this type of behavior from pastors and other leaders in churches compels me to enter into ministry to provide comfort and guidance to the hurting. On the other hand, such behavior also makes me want to run away screaming from institutional churches and embrace a organic/simple/house church approach which is more authentic and transparent. Sadly, I believe neither will be immune from abuses of authority because of an incipient desire by some to seek power at the disregard of human dignity.

Leadership within the church is a much debated topic within both institutional and non-institutional churches. From a simple church perspective, Ross Rohdes raises some important points regarding the importance of service over leadership. David Fitch also calls for a different kind of leadership within a more institutional missional church. Both raise good points, both portray the characteristics endemic to a Christianity that seeks authenticity rather than simple assent to beliefs p, and q. Regardless of the position one holds about servant/leadership, the ultimate authority is with Jesus Christ. At the end of Matthew’s gospel he states, “”All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” That is the source of authority in the church. It is also the characteristic of that authority in the church. Sadly, what has happened in the IFB churches along with other evangelical and Roman Catholic churches is a denial in action of the authority they claim to have. Instead of reflecting the Shepherd, they have become hired hands.

Both denominational and house churches have baggage in this area of ecclesial power. Although I side with those who seek to abolish the clergy/laity distinction, I do recognize that many brothers and sisters in Christ function as Pastors and Teachers. Whether or not a pastor (or teacher) receives a paycheck is moot in situations where abuse(s) of authority occur. The character of Christ should be evident and with that character, a certain measure of authority. Yet let us remember how Jesus received such authority, as a servant. This seems more a matter of influence and trust rather than control and dominance. If a pastor or teacher truly trusts the sheep (they are sheep  as well), they will guide the sheep to Christ (in freedom) and not dictate laws and severity to keep control (which leads to bondage).

Grace and peace,

JWR

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Profound works of staggering genuis

A few years back I had the privilege of standing before Van Gogh’s ‘Irises’ at the Getty Center. It is the one painting there that I will surely see any time I visit. Yet this last time that I saw it, it brought me to tears. Here is this painting, by a tormented soul of a man, now considered a genius years after his death. His paintings are priceless. How is it that paint on a canvas can bring someone to tears or evoke awe? Seeing the paint strokes, the colors, the composition and all the elements comprising the work provide a medium for communication that carries one over to a higher place. I consider Van Gogh a genius because his work still touches people. So much of his life is tied up in his paintings, it was the one thing he had to do, his passion.

The Pauline letter written to the church in Ephesus echoes the passion God has for us. The letter states:

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Eph2.10.NIV (italics mine)

The NASB speaks of ‘workmanship’ and many other translation state, ‘God makes us what we are…’ We are His works of creation, His passion. The Greek word for handiwork is poema. A work of art invested with the very life of God, we have His fingerprints all over us, so to speak. The passion of God, while exemplified in the cross of Christ, is not limited to the cross but encompasses the totality of creation that was and will be redeemed. We are part of that beautifully crafted work and we have the privilege of participating in that work.

I firmly believe every brother or sister in Christ has a work that is potentially a profound work of staggering genius. It is their passion. One aspect of the unrelenting and wild passion of God they can reflect. We all need to find that in ourselves and recognize it others and encourage one another to fulfill that passion. Whether it is painting, poetry, woodworking, teaching, serving the poor, challenging government or whatever that passion might be, pursue it. In addition, do not think about it. Do it.

Grace and peace,

JWR

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