What your Mother gave you

Remember to thank God for your mother, and all the things she gave you.

M is for the many things she gave me.
O is for the other things she gave me.
T is for the things she gave me.
H is for her things, which she gave me.
E is for everything she gave me.
R is for the rest of the things, which she gave me.
-Bob Dylan

Yes, that really is Bob Dylan's mother on stage with him and Joan Baez.

Yes, that really is Bob Dylan’s mother on stage with him and Joan Baez.

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Be like the culture to attract? How about No?

"Smoke machine and concert lighting in Church, you say? Um... No"

“Smoke machine and concert lighting in Church, you say? Um… No”

We have been told that we have to make the Church attractive to the man outside, and the idea is to become as much like him as we can… yet… the glory of the gospel is that when the Church is absolutely different for the world, she invariably attracts it…  

Every revival proves that men who are outside the Church always become attracted when the Church begins to function truly as the Christian Church, and as individual Christians approximate to the description here given in these beatitudes.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Studies in the Sermon on the Mount

 

In a world of attraction and promotion we’re often tempted to become like the culture around us in order to attract people to God and his Church.  This can be stylistic: “if we only look like this, or feel like this experience…”  Or moral: “if only we could ditch this unattractive teaching about sex or money…”

The paradoxical reality is that church actually attracts more when it is different.  This was true for me in my early twenties.  There were probably churches that could have offered sexual ethics or views on truth that would have already agreed with what I was swimming in in my culture.  But it was the church that did not cater or cave, the one that was not afraid of being different or strange, that I found most real and life-giving.  It was not by removing controversy or even in spite of it, but because of it that I came to God.

 

A Holy Friend

How should people of faith be towards the world?  How should we build ‘ramps’ instead of ‘walls’?

This is often a favourite question of mine and this talk by David Brooks is such a gift.  Yes, sometimes it takes a Jew to tell Christians how to be better Christians in our culture.  This talk is one of the best, most challenging, most encouraging things I’ve heard in a long time.  Here is a favourite excerpt:

He [Joseph Soloveitchik, the great rabbi, in his 1965 book “Lonely Man of Faith.”] said we have two sides to nurture, which he called Adam One and Adam Two, which correlate to the versions of creation in Genesis.

Adam One is the external résumé. Career-oriented. Ambitious. External.

Adam Two is the internal Adam. Adam Two wants to embody certain moral qualities to have a serene, inner character, a quiet but solid sense of right and wrong, not only to do good but to be good, to sacrifice to others, to be obedient to a transcendent truth, to have an inner soul that honors God, creation and our possibilities.

Adam One wants to conquer the world. Adam Two wants to obey a calling and serve the world. Adam One asks. “How things work?” Adam Two asks, “Why things exist and what we’re her for?”

Adam One wants to venture forth. Adam Two wants to return to roots.

Adam One’s motto is “Success.”

Adam Two’s motto is “Charity. Love. Redemption.”

So the secular world is a world that nurtures Adam One, and leaves Adam Two inarticulate.

The competition to succeed in the Adam One world is so intense, there’s often very little time for anything else. Noise and fast, shallow communication makes it harder to hear the quieter sounds that emanate from our depths.

We live in a culture that teaches us to be assertive, to brand ourselves to get likes on Facebook, and it’s hard to have that humility and inner confrontation which is necessary for a healthy Adam Two life.

And the problem is that I have learned over the course of my life that if you’re only Adam One, you turn into a shrewd animal whose adept at playing games and begins to treat life as a game.

You live with an unconscious boredom, not really loving, not really attached to a moral purpose that gives life worth. You settle into a sort-of  self-satisfied moral mediocrity. You grade yourself on a forgiving curve. You follow your desires wherever they take you. You approve of yourself as long as people seem to like you. And you end up slowly turning the core piece of yourself into something less desirable than what you wanted. And you notice this humiliating gap between your actual self and your desired self.

So this secular world may look like Kim Kardashian and vulgarity, but I am telling you it is a river of spiritual longing. Of people who are aware of their shortcomings and lack of direction and in this realm.

They don’t have categories, they don’t have vocabularies, but they know the gap.

They know the gap because none of us gets through life very long without being knocked to our knees either in joy or in pain. And a bunch of activities expose the inadequacies of an Adam One life.

A Holy Friend – David Brooks, The Gathering, 2014

God Isn’t Like You or Me… Wisdom from W H Auden

Auden has something to say but we must wait til the end of this post.

Auden has something to say but we must wait til the end of this post.

 

“You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”  These words came into my life via an acquaintance’s Facebook page.  I had encountered similar before.  I read those words and couldn’t find any instant disagreement with them.  Of course human beings do have a built-in inclination to make God/god/gods after our own image.  It’s called idolatry and, trust me, it’s bad.  When we have prejudices and petty hatreds for people unlike ourselves that is not good.  When we assume or assert that God feels the same way as us, that’s even worse.  It is creating God in our own image.

But as I reflected for a few minutes afterwards, I started to wonder.  Where was this sentiment was aimed?   A sneaking suspicion arose that it was aimed at people who are sort of like me:  Christian (yeah, I still believe it all), conservative (for lack of a better word – certainly not politically conservative necessarily), traditional (in all the ways that are becoming more unpopular in current culture), and Evangelical (a term fraught with unwanted associations but I’m not giving up on it yet).  I don’t honestly believe I have ‘hatred’ for anybody – whether individuals or collective ‘other’.  But I do have lots of disagreement.  And if a statement like that is aimed at someone like me, then I need to receive it as a challenge.  And I do.  But I also felt obliged to challenge back.

If we can make God in our own image, that sad fact can cut both ways.  If we can make a god/gods that hate everything and everyone we do, we can also fall off the other side of the horse.  We can make a god/gods that accept, promote, tolerate everything we do.  And that’s also a sure way we’re making a god in our own image.  And the thing about idolatry is that our god isn’t the God.  Idolatry always gives us a comfortable god who already conforms to our way of looking at the world.  Our god likes what we like and hates what we hate.   But its not the True God.  The True God does hate.  He also has great love.  How can He, for example, both hate something (sin – which He gets very specific about) and love other things (sinners – no exceptions made in this area)?  Well, the answer to that lies at the heart of Christian belief – the Cross of Christ and the offer of just forgiveness made there.  But God doesn’t conform to our ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’.  God obeys neither current cultural norms nor the preferences of our individualistic hearts.  He is Who He is.  In fact, the only way to prevent making a god in our own image is to accept that reality.

One of the ways I know God is real is that He doesn’t agree with me.  I have many other reasons too – personal, rational, existential, confessional – but this one is important.  It’s also one of the reasons I believe that the Bible’s revelation of Him is true.  He doesn’t conform to me.  He has challenged (and continues to challenge) my preferred opinions about poverty and wealth, sexuality and what it’s for, who gets to be considered a human person, what faith is, who Jesus is, how I must live my life.  In fact, I’ve done a 180 in every one of those areas.  And I still get challenged to not go with the flow and choose the easier option.  If I were to make up a god, there wouldn’t be any difference between me and him.  If He’s real, though, He’ll be unlike me and perhaps the majority opinion around me.

I believe that the wisdom of W H Auden (a man whose personal faith I am not qualified to evaluate) is in order here:

“I believe because He fulfills none of my dreams, because He is in every respect the opposite of what He would be if I could have made Him in my own image. . . . None of the others arouse all sides of my being to cry ‘Crucify Him.'” -W.H. Auden

Be An Ass!

donkey

Here’s a famous question:  If you could be any animal, what kind of animal would you be?

Did you pick something strong, beautiful,or majestic?  Or maybe something able to fly high or run far?

Well, if you were to ask the great theologian Karl Barth he would reply…  I’d be an ass!

Referring to the story of Christ entering Jerusalem on the back of an ass, Barth found affinity with that donkey and said:

“If I have done anything in this life of mine, I have done it as a relative of the donkey that went its way carrying an important burden. The disciples had said to its owner: ‘The Lord has need of it.’ And so it seems to have pleased God to have used me at this time…”

Wanting to be used by God.  Wanting to carry Christ and His message where he went.  He wanted to be an ass.  There is great humility in this statement.  Nobody was looking at the donkey on that day.  They were all looking at the One that was carried.  Wouldn’t it be great if all our lives were more like that?