The Christian Label

I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way “Christian” became an overused adjective. I’m sure the creation of a Christian sub-culture in America helped in this respect with a wide variety of Christian products to serve up. We have Christian variations of television, radio, music, movies, singles websites, social media and on and on. It seems with the advent of any new type of trendy cultural contrivance the sub-culture seems to need to devise a Christian version of said device. This need to subvert culture in such an impetuous way seems a betrayal of the way of Jesus.

This reactionary recklessness is evident in the recent destruction of Serrano’s controversial artwork. Keith Giles offers an insightful response in Christians Unclear on the Concept. The need for a Christian sub-culture will only produce artistic works that are sub-par. This encourages the retreat to a Christian ghetto mentality. The need for clean, safe and holy artwork neglects a great deal of our human situation. The challenge for Christians in any sort of culture creation is the need to move beyond safe sub-culture to fully engage culture. The perpetuation of a Christian sub-culture is nothing short of cowardice. We are called to go into the world so why create things that are labeled “Christian?”

The people are Christian not the stuff. Going to the book of Acts, the followers of Jesus were commonly called followers of the Way or disciples. They are first called Christians in Antioch. Also, take into account how Paul spoke of the believers in the churches he raised up. He called them, saints. Also, brothers and sisters. Off the top of my head, I don’t believe he ever called them, “Christians.” So as disciples and followers of Christ, let’s drop “Christian” as an unnecessary adjective to describe what we do. Instead, let Christian be what we are.

grace and peace,

JWR

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Sheep, Goats and Osama bin Laden

Over this past week, I have had time to reflect on the various responses to the death of Osama bin Laden. From the joyous chanting to the somber expression, his death has evoked a wide-ranging spectrum. Two posts really got me thinking about radical Christian responses. The first from Tripp Fuller at Homebrewed Christianity. The second from Kurt Willem at The Pangea Blog. If you have a few minutes check them out. Both of these posts really shook me out of a nice tidy reading of the life of Christ (and what it means to follow him) that many Americans want to embrace.

As a Christian, whether you rejoiced or mourned Osama’s death, did you pray for him? If for some weird reason, he showed up at your church service, how would you respond? Would you love him? If he was hungry would you feed him? Thirsty? In need of shelter? Naked? In Prison? Sick? I think you can see where this is going. If you or I had the opportunity to do it, would we? Are we sheep or goats? Read Matthew 25:31-46 again.

I’ll admit, this might be stretching the limits of that parable then again maybe not. It seems that is what parables are meant to do. To stretch us beyond our comfort zone and show us the possibility for the Kingdom of God in our life. Are we willing to embrace this radical grace that has been extended to us to embody this divine reality? I am sure there will be protests to this, but before you do, recognize that you too, at one point in your life, were an enemy of God…

Grace and peace,

JWR

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Some Further Thoughts on Osama bin Laden’s Death

For the sake of clarity, one should never condone violence, especially from a Christian perspective. The actions of Osama bin Laden were and will continue to be atrocious. The damage inflicted on American soil left a gaping wound that still needs healing. Yet for the sake of consistency, the actions of the American President cannot be condoned either. When violence begets violence, the world continues to suffer. The cycle never ends. The death of bin Laden has not solved that problem. Violent responses are short term solutions that provide a temporary ‘peace’ and ‘security’ that later gives way to further violence.

The cross of Jesus Christ provides a way beyond the downward spiral of violence. Good Friday was celebrated a few weeks ago remembering that cross. Many may wonder of the good brought about by the death of a Jewish peasant. Violence was inflicted on Jesus by Roman authorities with the approval of the religious establishment. His death was the result of the greatest injustice but by the power of God is transformed into the greatest justice. Only after resurrection was it seen as good. The powers of satan, sin and the world system found an end in the death of Jesus Christ. In the resurrection we see the possibility of new life.

In the Pauline letter to the Colossians 2:15 it states:

And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (NIV)

Some view the ‘powers and authorities’ as the beings in the angelic realm, others as the reality of satan and his minions or as other’s see it, the worldly system of power. Whatever these powers may truly be, the cross is the place of their defeat and exposure.

So what does that mean for Christians today and the response to violence? The eternal moment of the cross of Christ is where the powers eventually lose. The cross of Christ exposed the true nature of those powers, that in Revelation are portrayed as beastly. Ultimately, it should provide Christians with the strength and courage to face the monstrous powers of violence and dominance and speak the truth in love.

The difficulty of walking in such a way is the violent nature of our own hearts. The natural desire to strike back is deeply ingrained in us. The good news is that that nature died on the cross too. The way of Jesus is now a possibility. It is only by the grace of God one can go this way. May we always keep the cross before us even in the midst of a violent world.

Peace,

JWR

Some Thoughts on Osama bin Laden’s Death

“…theUnited States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden” -President Obama

I thought I would react to hearing such news in a different way. I thought I would be happy, but I’m not. Sure, Osama was an architect of mass murder that put Manson to shame. Thousands of American troops have been and still are in harms way in response to his actions. I respect the work they do. Thousands have died both military and civilian. I mourn such loss. Was this an act of justice or an act of national vengeance? I tend to think the latter.

So now America rejoices. I get it. I just cannot and will not participate in it. This has solved nothing. Osama reaped what he sowed. Will the violence end with his death? I doubt it. He was considered the head of the snake; destroy the head and terrorism dies. But what if it is a hydra and not a snake? Could this action by America make things worse? Possibly…We just made a martyr.

Now I would like to be a martyr not in the sense of me dying right now for my faith, but rather to be a witness to the living God. Any notion of divine justice must go back to the cross of Christ. Any evil, human or demonic; any suffering, personal or massive must be seen in the light of the cross. The power of satan was defeated at the cross, Jesus Christ exposed the powers that be for what they are, the monstrous system and actions that seek to dehumanize and destroy humanity. This is why I cannot rejoice over Osama’s death. The power that is America was subjected to the cross just as much as Al Quaeda. So as a Christian, where does your loyalty lie?

I hear the reports of chanting in the streets. This is the sound of Empire. America is in a dangerous place and the church in America even more so. Many an American church has co-opted to politics to justify certain political agendas. This has occurred on the Right and the Left. If the church is to be an expression of the Kingdom of God in the earth, she should reflect the values and attitudes of God’s Kingdom. Don’t get me wrong, I love and pray for the American people. I also love and pray for the people of Venezuela,Iran,China,Sudanand so many others. My ultimate allegiance lies with the Kingdom of God. The kingdoms of this world will eventually fade, includingAmerica. When? No one but God knows. In the meantime, I will seek God’s Kingdom and yield to the peaceful and suffering Lord who has called me to it.

May the peace of Christ be with you,

JWR

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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