Monday, August 29, 2011


She wanted to cool off.

That's what it comes down to.

My sixteen year old daughter was done with classes for the day. It was a fine late-summer day, sunny and hot, and she was ready to drive home. She got in my pickup, started it up, and waited in a long line of cars all wanting nothing more than to get out of the parking lot. While she waited, she turned the air on and cranked it up. She inched forward a little at a time in that interminably long line of cars, politely letting others go in front of her from time to time. She turned onto the access road that led from the parking lot toward the street. Foot constantly on the brake, transmission in "Drive," the engine never got to rev up and the air conditioning unit continued to put a heavy load on it. The depths of that engine began to get very, very hot.

I'm sure somewhere along the way, Dad-like, I have mentioned that the A/C puts a heavy load on the engine. In fact I know that topic came up this summer when we were on vacation. But my daughter didn't know that idling the engine when you're in gear and having the air on is a terrible combination that can make the engine overheat very quickly.

So when, just before she got out onto the street where she'd have been able to rev the engine a bit, the steam started pouring out of the engine compartment, she was quite panicked. She shut the engine off, thinking it must be on fire (steam looks a lot like smoke to the inexperienced) and I got to make the Dad trip. Of course, by the time I arrived the pickup had been cooling off for a half hour or better and she felt a little foolish when I just started it up and drove it back into the parking lot to check it out. It really wasn't her fault; she didn't know what kind of a burden she was placing on that engine.

I wonder how often we do this without realizing it. We place heavy burdens on other people without really meaning to. We just don't realize what a load we're putting on them. I'm convinced we do this to all kinds of people -- to those we love most, like spouses and children and parents. We do this to those we barely know -- the lady behind the counter at the DMV, or the grocery checkout clerk, or the driver going under the speed limit in the fast lane. Who knows what kind of a load they're already carrying? Do you suppose it might be a good idea to find out before we add to their burdens?

When you are tempted to stand up for your rights, to demand attention, to let off a little steam because you've finally had it; when you are ready to dispense some wisdom (without kindness) to a few well-deserving people; when you are ready to share a piece of your mind with someone who seems to need your help to get their act together -- stop. Think for a minute. What if they are loaded down already? What if the day has been unbearable? What if they just received bad news? What if life is more than they can bear? What if that saying about "God will never give you more than you can handle" seems to them like terrible irony, because they're overloaded?Do you want to be the voice that sends them over the edge?

What if we learned to speak gently, whether we need to or not? What if we learned to love mercy more than getting our way? What if we treated the people around us with tenderness, rather than demanding a self-focused version of justice?

What if we took burdens off those around us, instead of adding to their load? There are a lot of places in the Bible that describe this kind of attitude and action. Galatians 6:2 is good for starters. Luke 11:46 shows that Jesus understood this kind of loading-others-down all too well.

Oh, that Jesus' followers might be known as those who ease the burdens of others, as those who, like Jesus, long to give relief to the overloaded! (See Matthew 11:28-30, especially if you feel today like you are one whose burdens have brought you to the breaking point!)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Crazy busy

It's amazing how insane life can get at times. After my last post about how restful the Boundary Waters was this year, I have endured more triple-booked schedules, more unforeseen car breakdowns, more difficult calendar issues, more last minute decisions, than just about any other week in my life.

Two years ago I started this blog after a fifteen-day stint in the hospital when my brain popped. (Actually just a blood vessel in my brain popped, but close enough.) One of the great lessons I learned out of that amazing experience was Trust. Flying over the Mississippi on my way to the emergency room at North Memorial, I had one tiny bit of control -- I could leverage myself up on my elbow to look out the window at the river below. I could not control anything else. I could not control whether the helicopter arrived safely. I could not control what was going on inside my own brain, either my thoughts or the bleeding. I could not control the quality or experience of the doctors and nurses on duty at the hospital where I'd arrive shortly. I couldn't even control whether I lived to lay back down on the gurney when the pain in my head became intolerable.

Being out of control, I learned to trust. Throughout that hospital stay, I learned to trust. One day a nursing student who was assigned to my floor asked me how I could be so calm, even funny, in the face of a life-threatening condition that might kill me at any moment. "My life belongs to God," I said, "and I trust that if he sees fit to let it end right now, he's got a good reason for that." Living in the face of death teaches you to trust.

The last day of my hospital stay I realized an Important Lesson. That is this: Living in the face of death requires trust, but so does living in the face of life. I can't control whether my vehicles keep functioning. (Though of course I can be responsible about maintenance, etc. That's a different issue.) I can't control what the other drivers do. I can't guarantee that my family members will all arrive home safely. I can't control the weather or my sickness / health or lots of other things. To get through this life, I have to trust.

So when I have a crazy busy week like this one, it brings me to the end of what I can control. Over and over again, I've had to remind myself to trust. Relax. Do what you can, and recognize that you're not finally in charge. Trust.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Boundary Waters

My family just returned from a five-day stint in the Boundary Waters. I was looking through an old journal while I was up there in which I have recorded the various trips I've made to the Boundary Waters. This was my 20th trip. It was kind of a thrill to realize that while we were there, I passed the one-hundred-days-in-the-Boundary-Waters mark. Wow. So my grand total now stands at 102 days spent, all or in part, in the Boundary Waters.

This trip we went back to an area we know well, off the Gunflint Trail to Alpine Lake, where we've stayed a couple times before. It was a restful trip, with lots of sleeping in until 8 am and relaxing during the days. I read Rudyard Kipling's Captains Courageous to the family, front to back -- still one of my favorite read-alouds. Did a little half-hearted fishing.

Most of the time a trip like that drives me more than half crazy because I want to be moving and exploring. This time, though, I needed to rest. It was a relief, actually, when the one day I had planned to go exploring turned out so windy I didn't want to be out on the lake unless absolutely necessary. So I gave up the day trip and we went to the sheltered side of our peninsula and went swimming instead, then fell asleep in the sun. It's a rough life.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Luther on worship

As long as we're on the topic of things Luther had to say, I might as well toss this out there. Not only was Luther offensive to those who wanted to have a Christian state; he also had some ideas that threatened those who wanted to keep the church under strict control. Here is a lengthy quote on forms of worship. This quote -- and especially Luther's third preference for worship -- has become an important point of reference for us at Central Lutheran in Elk River as we seek to understand where God is leading us.

Luther said:

Now there are three kinds of divine service or mass. The first is the one in Latin which we published earlier under the title Formula Missae .  It is not now my intention to abrogate or to change this service. It shall not be affected in the form which we have followed so far; but we shall continue to use it when or where we are pleased or prompted to do so. For in no wise would I want to discontinue the service in the Latin language, because the young are my chief concern. And if I could bring it to pass, and Greek and Hebrew were as familiar to us as the Latin and had as many fine melodies and songs, we would hold mass, sing, and read on successive Sundays in all four languages, German, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. I do not at all agree with those who cling to one language and despise all others. I would rather train such youth and folk who could also be of service to Christ in foreign lands and be able to converse with the natives there, lest we become like the Waldenses in Bohemia,  who have so ensconced their faith in their own language that they cannot speak plainly and clearly to anyone, unless he first learns their language. The Holy Spirit did not act like that in the beginning. He did not wait till all the world came to Jerusalem and studied Hebrew, but gave manifold tongues for the office of the ministry, so that the apostles could preach wherever they might go. I prefer to follow this example. It is also reasonable that the young should be trained in many languages; for who knows how God may use them in times to come? For this purpose our schools were founded.

The second is the German Mass and Order of Service, which should be arranged for the sake of the unlearned lay folk and with which we are now concerned. These two orders of service must be used publicly, in the churches, for all the people, among whom are many who do not believe and are not yet Christians. Most of them stand around and gape, hoping to see something new, just as if we were holding a service among the Turks or the heathen in a public square or out in a field. That is not yet a well-ordered and organized congregation, in which Christians could be ruled according to the gospel; on the contrary, the gospel must be publicly preached [to such people] to move them to believe and become Christians.

The third kind of service should be a truly evangelical order and should not be held in a public place for all sorts of people. But those who want to be Christians in earnest and who profess the gospel with hand and mouth should sign their names and meet alone in a house somewhere to pray, to read, to baptize, to receive the sacrament, and to do other Christian works. According to this order, those who do not lead Christian lives could be known, reproved, corrected, east out, or excommunicated, according to the rule of Christ, Matthew 18 [: 15–17 ]. Here one could also solicit benevolent gifts to be willingly given and distributed to the poor, according to St. Paul’s example, II Corinthians 9 . Here would be no need of much and elaborate singing, Here one could set up a brief and neat order for baptism and the sacrament and center everything on the Word, prayer, and love. Here one would need a good short catechism  on the Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Our Father.

In short, if one had the kind of people and persons who wanted to be Christians in earnest, the rules and regulations would soon be ready. But as yet I neither can nor desire to begin such a congregation or assembly or to make rules for it. For I have not yet the people or persons for it, nor do I see many who want it. But if I should be requested to do it and could not refuse with a good conscience, I should gladly do my part and help as best I can. In the meanwhile the two above-mentioned orders of service must suffice.

[1]Luther, M. (1999, c1965). Vol. 53: Luther's works, vol. 53 : Liturgy and Hymns (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (Vol. 53, Page 62-64). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Martin Luther weighs in

Martin Luther had some interesting things to say about trying to maintain a Christian government. One of his most thought-provoking quotes is this:

. . .for the world and the masses are and always will be un-Christian, even if they are all baptized and Christian in name. Christians are few and far between (as the saying is). Therefore it is out of the question that there should be a common Christian government over the whole world, or indeed over a single country or any considerable body of people, for the wicked always outnumber the good.

(LW 45,91)

Luther recognized that a "Christian" government required not just a statement of faith or a shared creed, but that the various citizens of that particular place had to also be committed followers of Jesus who lived not just under the laws of the state, but who held themselves to a much higher standard. If the majority of people, or even a significant minority, are not committed followers of Jesus, Luther says, you can't have a "Christian" government.

And Luther wisely distinguishes between those who are Christian "in name" and those who are authentically Christian. This is the key to understanding why an attempt to re-form the United States as a "Christian" nation is futile, mis-directed, and non-biblical. It flies in the face of the very nature of Christianity to be able to label a huge country as Christian. At most, you will enforce a weak agreement of some minimum standards of behavior and morality and basic creeds about the existence of God.

This is far from a life-giving relationship with Jesus in which individuals and small community groups live under the Lordship and authority of Jesus Christ by the power of his Spirit. Anything less than this is not fully Christian.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Thought provoking video

I received the video below in response to my earlier comments about the terrorist attacks in Norway. I think the video is fascinating. It is chilling to listen to the "conservative Christian" (I will not agree that either title is legitimate for those who are preaching fear and hate in the name of Jesus) speakers on the video who are espousing ideas that sound a lot like Hitler's anti-Jewish rhetoric in the 1930's. The video makes its point about tolerance well.

If this makes you uncomfortable, I just want to ask: What did Jesus really mean by "love your neighbor"? Or better yet, if you really believe that Muslims are the enemies of your country, what did Jesus mean when he told you to "love your enemies"? Do these commands of Jesus to his followers apply to neighbors or even enemies who happen to be Muslim?

Take a look and let me know what you think:

Monday, August 8, 2011

Peter Rollins weighs in

I've heard of, and talked to, lots of people who say they are maintaining a church membership so that they have a church "to be buried from." As I grow older I am more and more able to understand and sympathize with that concern. However, I suspect that these people are missing the main point of Christianity.

Jesus didn't create a church so we'd have someplace to be buried from. Rather, Jesus' followers are called to be baptized into Christ, which according to Romans 6 means that we die with Christ and are buried with him.

So when we enter the church building for worship, or when we gather in a home to worship, whenever we are among the people who are called by the name of Jesus, whenever we are in Christ, we are called to come and die. That was Bonhoeffer's quote, by the way: "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." So we don't need a church to be buried from. Rather, we need to come to church to die and be buried, again and again and again. We need to lay down our identity, our character, our pride, our agenda, our politics, our rights, our wrongs, our guilt, our shame, our happiness, our sadness. All these things we set aside just like a person dying sets these things aside, for we are in fact dying when we come to the cross.

And if we are not coming to the cross, what then is the point of coming to church?

At the conclusion of many of our worship services at Central, we end with the words, "Go in peace; serve the Lord. Thanks be to God!" This is the sign, the signal, the green light that lets us know it is time for us to be raised, for us to come alive again and go out into the world as those who have died with Christ, who have been raised with him. This is the whole point of baptism. This is the whole point of the Jesus-following life. Our lives are defined by death and resurrection -- not just that of Jesus, but our own as well.

Peter Rollins says it well in this four-minute video. It's worth your time to watch.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Interlude: That is, a temporary change of subject

Each spring I go for a massive adventurous bike ride. I have done this for several years, ever since I discovered mountain bikes. The idea of a bicycle that one can use to ride through the woods was something that hit me like a forest fire. So sometime early in the season, usually April sometime, I go riding and come home a mess of scratches, bruises, and brambles with a giant grin splattered on my face along with a fair quantity of mud. I have even figured out a rather convoluted system of rating my bike rides on a scale of 1-10. The following is not a complete list, but gives you some idea of the rating scale. In order to achieve a 10, among other things a ride must include:

  • riding off-trail -- off-road goes without saying
  • a fairly spectacular wreck WITHOUT equipment damage (mandatory half point deduction if you break the bike)
  • blood, preferably in limited quantity (hospitalization is a disqualifier)
  • seeing wildlife, the closer the better
  • mud on all major parts of the bike and body
  • minimal "carrying the bike" over obstacles
So you begin to get the idea.

This year if you live in Minnesota you know that the spring was miserable. I barely got on my bike at all, and certainly didn't get to take The Ride. Then June got miserably busy and then we were on vacation for the first two weeks of July. I forgot all about The Ride and just started riding my gnarly off-road Gary Fischer bike as a commuter vehicle back and forth from home to the church and home again in order to get some exercise. This is sort of like using a monster truck to shuttle the kids to and from soccer practice. It's just sad and wrong, even if it's functional.

I woke up yesterday morning with no idea at all that this would be the day of The Ride. In spades. I rode down County Road 1 to work and enjoyed the blessed coolness of a seventy-degree morning, then late in the afternoon changed back into my biking clothes to ride home. On hot days, I often take the Elk River Parks' beautifully paved railroad grade up to County 33 and then cut over to County 1. This route gives me a few extra miles of shade, as the railroad grade glides northward through heavily wooded parkland.

En route I mentally praised those who so promptly cut up and removed trees which had fallen across the trail. They had done their job so thoroughly that I barely noticed the number of trees which had been removed.

You see, this has been a summer of storms. We've had more than our share of straight-line winds and near-tornadoes, cumulonimbus clouds and wall clouds and thunderheads and heavy rains and flash flood watches. It's wet, and the ground is saturated, even in the sandy country where I live. The swamps and the creeks are full. The grass and the underbrush are thick. These details will become important in a moment.

Yesterday I decided not to cut across County 33 to County 1. You see, the railroad grade continues northward. In fact, the newspaper said a couple years ago that the county plans to pave the remainder of the grade from the Elk River city limits northward to the municipality of Zimmerman, which would make my commute a true joy. So generally a couple times a year I take the railroad grade north beyond County 33 in order to see if work has begun yet. Slowly, slowly I am beginning to realize that the newspaper story is exactly the kind of thing governments publish in the press to curry favor among the voting public. Said story has little or nothing to do with actual facts.

Yesterday, given 1) the heat of the late afternoon, and 2) the beauty of the day, I decided it would be a good day to ride northward beyond County 33. You can't get all the way to Zimmerman on this railroad grade, but you can get halfway there, then pick up another side road, skirt the edge of U.S. 169 for a quarter mile, then follow the backroads to my house. That was my plan.

The pavement ends at an arbitrary point (technically the northward limit of the city of Elk River) behind the landfill. From there, the trail is gravel, but generally there are people on four wheelers that keep the weeds beaten down and it makes a good biking path for someone with a killer mountain bike. It was greener than I expected, but still very ridable. I didn't anticipate too many trees down across the path because most of the storms, as I remembered, were worse toward Elk River and not so bad nearer to Zimmerman. And there had been few trees down on the southern portion of the trail, at least few that I saw. So I rode over a tree trunk, then over another tree trunk. After a half mile of gravel I encountered my first full-blown downed tree that forced me to get off my bike. I slithered under and through the branches, pulled my bike through behind me, then got back on and resumed riding down the trail. After a mile I had ridden over a half dozen trees and had to get off for three or four. Not bad, and about what I expected.

Five or six more downed trees forced me off the bike and around, over, or through. The mosquitos were thick whenever I had to get off my bike, but when I resumed riding I rapidly lost them. A deer fly or two buzzed around my head and tried to get through the vents in my helmet but they didn't last long in the wind once I got up to speed. I marveled again at what it must have taken to build a railroad grade through these wetlands. To either side of the trail water stood in small ponds. The quantity of rain lately has turned most of the low-lying forest into a swamp.

A mile and a half into this trail I began to anticipate coming out onto a road again. I knew I had another half mile, maybe a little more, to go. Then I came on a tangle of trees that you'd have to see to believe. There must have been thirty within a hundred yards, all down, limbs akimbo and tangled over the trail making it totally impassable. Fortunately, I thought, there was a four-wheeler trail headed east into the brush, up a steep bank, and out into a meadow that paralleled the trail about a hundred yards away. The easiest course of action looked like the meadow, then I could come back to the trail at some point. That was the plan.

I climbed up into the meadow, mostly walking my bike because there were trees down over the four-wheeler path as well. When I reached the meadow, the tracks continued east, so I turned and rode through the thick grass in low gears. Everything was going swimmingly.

At this point, working backward from the evidence, I have deduced that one of two things happened. The first possibility, if you read science fiction, is that I hit a space warp and was immediately transported a quarter mile to the east. If you're more government conspiracy oriented, the second possibility is that the Army Corps of Engineers came in at that point with a prototype squadron of their new silent propulsion bulldozers and built a new trail that looped a quarter mile to the west, in the process removing all traces of the old trail and of their presence.

Like I said, the evidence could point either way. What happened to me was that I turned west at the north end of the meadow to work my way a hundred yards down the slope through the woods back to the trail. I found a swamp. So I worked my way, mostly carrying my bike, through the swamp, around the swamp, through the swamp, over the logs and through the underbrush and through some more of the swamp. The swarms of mosquitos were ferocious. The deer flies had disappeared and been replaced by large herds of their massive cousin, the moose fly. Not a breath of wind stirred down their in the brush. Nothing at all happened to disturb the squadrons of insects, busy at their feasting. Occasionally I dove through an especially thick section of underbrush to try to get them off my back, arms, shoulders, neck, and head. That resulted in scratching up my body in fairly thorough fashion.

My one comfort was that I was walking in a straight line. On a cloudy day I might well have lost my way and begun wandering in circles, but the sun, sinking toward the western horizon, gave me a clear point of reference to ensure that I was making progress toward the trail.

I began to calmly catalogue resources. I had my wallet, a couple granola bars, a chain repair tool, inner tube puncture repair kit, air pump. And my cell phone. I kept carrying my bike -- a fairly light thing up until yesterday, but at some point someone had filled its aluminum frame with lead -- over and through the swamp. I thought about that cell phone and realized it would be absolutely no help. What could I do? I thought about that last, sad call to my wife. I would get her to promise me that she would never come looking for my body. Someday, in a dry year, someone would find my bike, but by then my body would be drained and sunk into the muck.

It felt like miles, but honestly I don't think the Corps moved the trail more than a quarter mile to the west. After several false alarms, I finally climbed out of the swamp up a bit of firm ground and found the trail. Had the bugs been any less thick, I would have bent to kiss the ground. As it was, I simply said a prayer of thanks and proceeded to turn north and climb aboard, clipping my shoes into the pedals and trying to get up enough speed to evade the mosquitos.

My next obstacle was another fallen tree, but this one I was sure I could ride over. I got up a little more speed and proceeded to hop my front tire over the trunk. Then I saw there was a second trunk hidden behind the first. My front tire came down and stopped. The rest of the bike took a second to come to a halt, so I found myself in a curious position. The bike hung in the air vertically, balanced on the front tire. I was still astride the bike, hands on the handlebars, shoes firmly clipped into the pedals. I hung there for a full second, then, like a Ponderosa Pine, began slowly to topple northeastward. Fortunately I landed on the gravel and was able to roll enough that I took most of the impact on my right kidney. I carefully unclipped, got my bike and me up, and proceeded to crawl through, over, around, and under the next thirty or forty trees that were scattered across the next quarter mile of trail.

Then, blessing of blessings, I saw the road. One more tree, and I was able to shakily get clipped in for what would hopefully be the final time. I began to ride toward the gate that crossed the trail just before the road. Just before I reached the gate, I turned left to follow the four-wheeler access where they've gone around the gate. I had to slow down in order to pedal through a couple deep puddles. Riding at about a mile per hour, I heard a rustling in the tall grass to my left, maybe five or six feet off the trail. Small animal rustling. Suddenly a thick, heavy sensation filled my nostrils and mouth.

Being in close proximity to a skunk that has just sprayed is nothing like the gentle odor you get when you pass one that's been hit on the highway. Close up, the scent feels like the back of your throat has turned to ammonia, like you're eating tangerines that were allowed to rot for a week in the sun, then soaked in vodka. It's unbelievable. I rode out onto the pavement (blessed pavement!) and turned up the hill toward the highway. The flood of skunk scent dwindled and faded. I hadn't been hit. It was a near miss. Thank God.

I stopped to call my wife. It was already a half hour past the time I'd told her to expect me home. When she came on the line, I said, "The good news is that I'll be late for supper. The bad news is that the railroad grade north of County 33 is totally impassable."

When I finally arrived at home, we sat down to supper and I told this story. The kids wanted to know how I'd rate the ride. The question stumped me a little bit. I finally settled, all things considered, on an 8.5.

I rode my bike to work again this morning. I'm about to leave my office as I finish writing this. I'll be taking County 1 home, thank you very much.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Where is Jesus?

I love the somewhat dated story about a little girl who goes to the pediatrician. The doctor plays a game with the four year old girl to try to alleviate any nervousness about the stethoscope. So as she listens to the girl's stomach, she says, "I think I hear Bugs Bunny in there!" When she listens to the girl's lungs she says, "I hear Dora in there!" When she listens to the girl's heart, she says, "I hear Barney in there!" The girl becomes very serious and looks the doctor in the eye. "Doctor," she says, "Barney is on my underwear. Jesus is in my heart."

Where is Jesus? This is a question the church has to deal with. We often speak and act as if Jesus is gone, departed, out of the picture. We find ourselves much like the confused disciples in Acts 1, staring up into the heavens wondering where Jesus went.

Many of our quasi-theological statements make the assertion that Jesus is out of the picture. For example, it is not uncommon to read theological books about worship, usually from high church or mainline traditions (think Episcopal or liturgical Lutheran among others) that talk about the pastor or priest presiding at the altar "in Christ's stead." The presider -- this usually refers to the one who oversees the preparation of the bread and wine for communion and speaks the "words of institution" ("in the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread ..."). If we mean what we say in these statements, that the pastor or priest presides "in Christ's stead," we are saying that we have to do this because Jesus isn't there, or isn't there in such a way that he can actually get things done.

I submit this is a very dangerous way to think.

If Jesus is not really present, our whole theology of Communion, usually summed up in liturgical traditions with words like "the real presence of Christ in, with, and under the bread and wine" is bankrupt. Is Jesus present or isn't he? If the priest functions in Christ's stead, then Jesus is not present. But this is exactly the theological corner into which liturgical traditions often paint themselves. We don't believe or act as if Jesus is truly present, so we create a church that becomes some combination of a theological club, a social club, a social service organization, a readers' group, and a historical society. These churches, that exist all across North America, tend to be middle or upper middle class institutions that ask little of their constituents and make little difference in the world. You can tell just by listening that they don't really think Jesus showed up for worship that day, because their prayers are scripted, flowery, generalized, and low-impact. They may take daring social stands on issues, but nobody really pays attention because this church doesn't have any oomph.

Other churches, however, maintain that Jesus is truly present. They talk to him as if he is right there. They expect him to heal people, to bless people, to lead and guide those who want to follow him. When Jesus says, "Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" in Matthew 28, these churches take him seriously. And they also take him seriously when he says, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you" in John 20. So they get out into the world and try to make a difference. They make a ton of mistakes along the way and offend some people, but they also feed the hungry, clothe the naked, start prison ministries and travel all over the world to build houses and orphanages, dig wells and care for people struggling with malaria or HIV.

Which church would you rather be a part of?

One of the reasons I get so worked up about this is that when I was in western North Dakota, I used to go round and round with the local bishop about who was authorized to preside at communion and who wasn't. There were dozens of small rural congregations that struggled to find the services of an ordained pastor.

There are sincere people, and (let me be careful to say) people who know Jesus in both kinds of churches. And both churches contain hypocrites. No question. But -- and this is why this is so important -- one of these kinds of churches takes God's word seriously. When the Bible says something, they believe it's true. It may be uncomfortable truth, but it's truth. You may need to understand the historical context to get at the depth and nuance of what it means, but by and large you can trust that the Bible means pretty much what it says.

The other kind of church holds these words in the Bible loosely and assumes that Jesus may have said something like that, historically speaking, but you have to interpret, because that really doesn't apply in the same way today. The Bible says a lot of things we don't take seriously, so let's just figure out what makes sense and act on that. We are not children -- we know good from evil. It's up to us to make justice and peace a reality.

To repeat myself, I submit that our theology -- our way of speaking about Jesus -- makes a huge difference.

Monday, August 1, 2011

N. T. Wright weighs in

Most excellent fellow heretic Curt sent me this quote from N.T. Wright that is quite appropriate to what we've been discussing here:

Politics is the constant to-ing & fro-ing between tyranny and chaos. But we believe in Jesus Christ and in the sovereign saving rule that he exercises from the cross and in his resurrection. And we have the task of modeling before the world what that sort of polis would look like. Not as an independent thing hiding away from the world, keeping the light to ourselves so that we can then say “look at the rest of the world, isn’t it dark?” Well, of course it is if we’re not shining the light there!

N.T. Wright speaking at the
Wheaton Theology Conference April 2010