Missio Dei

Fresh off our trip to Europe, I still feel like I’m racing to get caught up on everything.  We spent just over a week in England and then a week in France.  We had such a great time and took tons of pictures.  If I ever have time, I will be sharing them.

What brought us to Europe in the first place, was my doctoral class “Encountering New Ways of being Church.”  The class is taught by John and Olive Drane, and also had substantial contributions by Ian and Gail Adams.  The class was as study in the experimental ministry by the Anglican and Methodist churches in England known as Fresh Expressions.   In addition to the Dranes and Adams, we were also given the opportunity to interact with Jonny Baker, Andrew Roberts, and we attended a gathering of Stillpoint, a Fresh Expressions gathering at a pub in Oxford  (I think it was Stillpoint 🙂  Obviously, I’ve got quite a lot to reflect on, and it will be awhile for me to process the wonderful experiences of the past couple of weeks.  I thought I’d begin by sharing where I’ve been an what I have been up to the past few weeks, and share what I think is the overarching theme that’s held these experiences together for me.

Over the past two years or so, the most significant development to my theology has come through my introduction to the term “missio dei.”  In reality, it’s an idea I’ve been flirting with for better than a decade – ever since I read Lesslie Newbigin’s The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, but it has become more enfleshed as I’ve read more specifically about missio dei.

Theologically, a grant shift has been taking place over the past two decades as practitioners have humbled themselves in realizing that God’s presence and mission is in place before they arrive in a particular context.  It seems almost obvious now, but in reality, this is a fairly recent development (with ancient roots, not doubt).  For many years, Christians were trained to think that they needed to “bring Christ to the nations.”  While this perspective serves as a great motivator, it also places a great amount of pressure on each Christian – after all, if we are to bring Christ to the nations – if we don’t go, we truncate the mission of God to those people.

In moving from a “we have something you need” mentality to a “you are experiencing something common to us that we are attempting to better understand – can we join you?” is a significant shift in perspective.  It is more humble.  It is more contextual.  It is more honest.  And . . . in the end . . . it’s actually easier!

This leads us to ask the question, “What is God doing in this neighborhood and how can we be a part of it?” instead of “What do we need to do to show these people to Jesus?”  In reality, God is already working in their lives.  He is already present in their neighborhoods.  The church is not the full realization of the kingdom.  While the church may be absent in a particular community, God’s kingdom, his larger reality in the world, is alive and at work.  Biblically, this is exactly what happens in Acts 17 while Paul is in Athens.  He looks around at what God has already been doing in that community.

This perspective is a driving force for the Fresh Expressions experiment (for lack of a better word) in the UK.  I appreciated the perspectives I was exposed to, and, although it required a good deal of translation for my context (the most pressing questions for me revolve around the denominational support that Fresh Expressions relies on relating to issues of sustainability), their impulse and devotion was encouraging.  There seem to be alot of people talking about these kinds of things, but few churches (especially in the United States) actually incorporating them into actual practices).  I certainly came away with many more questions than answers, but am determined to be an active part of God’s missio dei rather than some bystander serving only to commentate on what others are doing.

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Christmas Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

There is no mistake in your blog feed – I have a new post for my three followers to peruse!

Christmas is one of my favorite time s of the year.  My family was always able to make it a special time when I was a kid, and that has carried over to when I had a wife, kids, and family of my own.  Christmas was a time my mom worked hastily in the kitchen making candy and cookies that have helped keep my blood sugar and cholesterol high.  It was a special time with our family.  We had our traditions, and for the most part they revolved around family.

Christmastime has become even more special now that I have my own family.  Mary Beth and I were married a week before Christmas.  At first I kind of hated it since there are so many other things going on that time of year, but it has become a special part of our tradition to celebrate in the midst of a celebratory time of year.  There are even more opportunities for things for us to do than there would be if we had gotten married during another time of the year.  Then, just because that wasn’t enough, Clark’s birthday is January 7, so we kind of start the celebrating a week early, and keep it going a week after New Years.  So . . . Christmastime has a special places for the Metzes.

The reality of the religious significance of Christmas has played a pretty minor role in our family until more recently.  Nativity scenes were looked upon as way too Catholic for my family growing up, and we regularly heard sermons about how “We celebrate Christ’s birth every day.”  That may have been the case, but December 25 seemed to be one day we were definitely NOT going to celebrate Christ’s birth.

As I have grown, I have found an appreciation for the Christian piece of the holiday.  Our church has embraced the significance of the celebration by catering our services to the Nativity accounts during Advent, and we have conducted a Christmas Eve service for several years.  That, too, has become an important part of our Christmas traditions.  Our kids have a nightly ritual of opening a door on an advent house to reveal a piece of the nativity which presents us a chance for a daily reminder of Christ’s birth.

I say all of this to make my point that I am in no way a Christmas scrooge.  No matter what your perspective is regarding this holiday, I probably can empathize with you.  There are times when I want to scrap the whole thing as irredeemably commercial.  There are times when I want to learn from my Catholic friends and integrate the high ecclesiology and reverence that I so often lack.  There are times when I am just overwhelmed by gifts and “stuff” and all that and think we should “occupy Christmas.”  There are times when I am encouraged and inspired by the generosity and gratitude of others.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Christmas is a great time to look in the mirror – Christmas really is a mirror.  Our thoughts and emotions during this time of year are indicative of who we really are and where our faith really is.  Those who are especially dogmatic about not celebrating Christ this time of year often have so elevated dogmatism and doctrine that they can lose the relational and celebratory side of faith.  Those who are especially dogmatic about celebrating Christ this time of year may be guilty of under-appreciating his birth throughout the year and instead attempt to take their “Jesus” pill in a big dose this time of year.  Those who speak loudly against commercialism this time of year can fall into the trap of not appreciating a God who gives freely and appreciate the gifts and things we are blessed to have.  Those who indulge into the throes of debt and become overwhelmed by shopping malls and their online orders this time of year can equally miss the point of being satisfied in Christ alone.  Me personally – I think I fall guilty on each account at some point.

Any missions class begins with the idea of cross-cultural engagement.  If you desire to reach a people group/culture, you have to learn their language, learn their customs and traditions, learn how they work, and what makes them tick.  You have to learn to love them for who they are and what they do – not as potential “converts.”  Did Jesus set out to convert anyone?  Seems to me what he offered was “life” (John 10:10 anyone).  He offered the kingdom – a new way of living and seeing life now – not some kind of fire insurance for the future.  This way of life impacted the way they lived here and now.

Christmas is a time to celebrate.  It is a time when our culture chooses to celebrate.  I understand it is not this way for everyone – and that is a different topic for a different day.  But, whether it’s Hanukkah, Kwanza, winter solstice, most of our culture chooses to celebrate in some way.  It seems to me that one of the most detrimental things we could do is sit back with our arms crossed and say, “We can’t do this.  This is just too messy.  This isn’t biblical.”  Or whatever other reason we may offer.  Instead of yelling what we’re against, what if we went out of our way to engage the culture, to show why we can celebrate, to show how much fun we can be – an why!  Certainly, we can live among this culture as aliens and strangers and find ways to celebrate alongside those in our culture while not imbibing in paganism or hedonism.

We tend to be most critical of the things that are closest to us, and I think that is largely where many of us fall when it comes to talking Christmas.  It’s such an easy target. And perhaps, that is where our look into the Christmas mirror can reveal something important to us.

Mary Beth and I were able to spend several days in New York City at Christmastime last year.  Having heard about the mystique of the City for years, it was incredible to be able to experience it ourselves, and I feel as though we walked around every day and took in all the “pagan” aspects of the season: from the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center to ice skating in Central Park (OK, we didn’t actually ice skate but we saw other doing it!), and went to Mass at St. Patrick’s cathedral .(not pagan, obviously 😉 . . . and like Paul in Athens, saw alot of yearning and wonderful God-desires manifested in different ways.  As citizens of the kingdom, we celebrated our freedom and our life and the grace we have received everywhere we went.  We hope that we can continue to do that in whatever way we choose to observe (or not) the Christmas season.

Pondering Rob Bell, Ishmael, and the Non-Elect

Rob Bell has been the most recent Christian to stir up the challenging task of relating the Christian message in a pluralistic world.  Just sniffing around at this issue is enough to draw ire from many Christians.  Bell has certainly lit a firestorm amidst the blogosophere.  What I’ve been encouraged about, and what really is one of the merits of our times, is that his book has opened the discussion (or really just advanced it).  Most people have used his book to open the topic – one desperately needed for our times.

Ever since reading Leslie Newbiggin in seminary, this issue has really resonated with me.  Newbiggin’s work has really opened the can for the current discussion.  If you haven’t read Foolishness to the Greeks, or his best known book The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society, you’ve missed a really important voice in this area.  John Hick’s inclusivism (Christian universalism) has always been appealing to me, but I’ve just never been able to get there theologically.  Catholic theologian Karl Rahner and his idea of the “anonymous Christian” has helped ease my mind somewhat, but, in large part, I remain confused and unsure.

Which brings me to Ishmael.  I understand the great impulse of the Great Commission to go into all the world, I get that, I respect that, and I want to honor that.  For me, that is one end of the theological balance.  Certainly, Paul, Peter, etc. had a passionate desire for Christ to be preached.  However, the story of Ishmael causes me a bit of a theological crisis here.

We’re studying Genesis on Sunday mornings, and any time I come to the story of Ishmael, I become conflicted.  More than anything, I feel for Hagar.  The poor and marginalized woman brought into this mess by the underdeveloped faith of Abraham.  And yet, it is so strange what happens to her and her son.  God blesses them.  And this is no old-grandmother-blessing-you-at-the-table kind of blessing.  This is the real deal!  Have you read it lately?

“Go back to your mistress and submit to her.”  The angel added, “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.”  (Genesis 16: 9 – 10 and then later when they are sent away, “Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”  (Genesis 21: 20)

What?  Ishmael will be blessed beyond measure?  A great nation?  These are the same promises that were given to Abraham . . . father of the Jews . . . father of Christians.  I admit to not having studied this at great deal, so I am speaking out of ignorance here (even more than usual!), and I know there is a great connection with Ishmael and Muslims.  So . . . what are we to do here?  I am not interested in the Muslim connection, but rather the theological foundation at play here.  I think Walter Brueggemann is dead on here, which has partly led to my theological crisis: “God’s concern is not confined to the elect line.  There is passion and concern for the troubled ones who stand outside that line.”  (p. 153 from his Interpretation Series Commentary on Genesis).

“God’s concern is not confined to the elect line.”  I wonder how many non-Christians would believe those words would come from the lips of a Christian.  NT Wright has a really interesting video over at the Altar Video Magazine site that I find interesting and relevant: see here.

Like I said, I’m not sure where I’m at with all this stuff.  You can throw your accusations out and I’ll just avoid them, not just to avoid them, but because I’m just not sure.  I have really appreciated the dialogue recently.  Above were some of my more structured ideas, but below are some more scattered questions and thoughts that have been bouncing around lately:

– The more determined we become to isolate salvation to a moment, the more challenging it becomes.  I’ve been thinking about this at nursing homes.  Most Christians I know understand the mentally handi-capped and severely mentally ill to be under the auspices of grace.  But how does that work for all those nursing home patients who have slowly deteriorated?  “They had their chance and now it’s gone?”  I’m just not sure how to deal with this intersection of life and death/body and spirit.  It seems like we paint a picture of God who is cruel when we imagine a God who sits around waiting for these mentally-incapacitated patients to die off so they can go to hell.  Maybe that’s too harsh a way of putting it, maybe he’s grieving them all along, but then why is there nothing to be done for their soul at this point?

– A Bible passage that has really convicted me lately is Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount: “Which of you, if his son asks for bread will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heven give good gifts to those who asks him?  So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you. . .”  It’s an interesting line of logic.  We have these impulses towards good, imagine God’s!  I’ve never heard this applied to the topic at hand, but it seems relevant.  If I can imagine a world that is good and where a man is forgiven for his crimes rather than punished to death, why couldn’t God?  After all, as Matthew teaches, I am evil.  Imagine how great his illustration of grace would be!  While I haven’t read it yet, I get the idea that this is the gist of Rob Bell’s book.

– Also, there’s all those people who were living all around the world at the time that Jesus walked the earth.  What about the ancient Eastern cultures?  Do they simply represent a long line of hell-bound people who were never within the influence of Israel, and who, until the apostles reached them were condemned to hell?  With the above point in context, it just seems hard to swallow.

– But, I should end that there’s the other end of the theological balance to wrestle with as well.  So many of those early disciples gave their life for the faith.  Even today around the world, martyrs abound.  What are we to say of them?  The Bible itself shows them in a special light.  I think sometimes we are mistaken to believe that we can all just gather around the campfire at night and sing Kumbayah and “Imagine” with John and Yoko.  This is where realism slides into idealism.  There are missionaries all the time risking their lives.  There are Christians dying for their faith.  And then theirs Ishmael . . .

Superman Not an American???

This little frame from the most recent Superman comic has created quite the platform for discussion.  My previous blog, God, Superman, and the Buckeyes, seems to be the perfect repository for much of recent big news (scandals at Ohio State, and now this??)  This is right in my wheel house.

A couple of years ago I published an article examining the ways in which media portrayals of heroes are little more than an extension of the state seeking to glorify national interests and solidify patriotism in children (think G I Joe, Superman, etc.)  The authors Jewett and Lawrence have done a lot of work in this regard from the perspective of American history.  It seems that this latest turn in the Superman saga sparks a potential follow-up article (which if I can find some time I’ll work on some day , but here are some initial thoughts).

There is little doubt that Superman is the archetypal American “mono-myth” (a term from Jewett and Lawrence).  After all, he has always fought for “truth, justice, and the American way.”  Created by Siegel and Shuster in 1938, the comic had World War II and the Cold War to foment Superman in the American psyche as extension of all that is good in American foreign policy.  2011, however, is a much different time than the 40’s and 50’s.  The global political landscape has changed so drastically that Superman is having to reinvent himself to make sense in today’s global world.

It will be interesting to watch the conservative backlash from this event (and to see if the comic creates a new storyline where Superman’s American citizenry is once again affirmed), and it is one of those instances where we can learn alot about people from popular culture.  No doubt, the underlying impasse for many will be the presupposition that Superman’s renunciation of his American citizenship is predicated on the idea that his quest for truth and justice (and freedom?) finds him at odds with the American economic and political policies in the world.

There’s much more to come on this . . . but I wanted to throw out some initial thoughts of mine . . .

Peter Rollins

My faith has been formed within a tradition of churches known as the Churches of Christ – not to be confused with the United Churches of Christ or the Christian Churches of Christ. No, we are a pretty unique group. We are definitely “conservative” but not evangelical (though we look more and more like we are). We, like the Anabaptists before us are a dissenting movement, so we have a penchant for the cynical and a strong “what-we’re-not” theology. We were birthed through Presbyterian dissenters a few hundred years ago. We are thoroughly autonomous, but even in lacking any central governing or organizing structure, we are amazingly homogeneous (don’t read that as a good quality – it is perhaps our greatest asset, and, at the same time, our most understood trait from within).

We are led by local elders and our ministers have a less significant role in the affairs of the church than in most denominations. Doctrinally, our members can be find all across the board – this is a good thing, and is making living peacefully together more and more difficult.

This clip from Rollins is great and highlights the challenges that are before our group – as well as others. Churches of Christ went astray several decades insisting on doctrinal consistency, and, as Rollins illustrates, that world is a facade. What a challenge!

Doctrinally

Divergent Emergent Perspectives

I ran across this clip on Youtube today searching for emergent discussions. I found it interesting since both RC Sproul and Ravi Zaccarias are featured in the discussion – I never did figure out who the third guy was, but the link for the video on youtube references it as a Ligonier ministry – RC Sproul’s creature. These two are prominently featured in the Truth Project, and their perspectives were unfamiliar to me before our time with the Truth Project. With our congregation in the midst of the discussion, I know find it important to better inform myself. Admittedly, most of the reading that I do is focused among emergent-type authors. Adding to the difficulty is the fact that I am part of churches of Christ who aren’t really evangelicals (though some of us are looking more and more like them), but find ourselves, for the most part, of of these kinds of discussions.

So . . . a few thoughts on this video clip. The speakers unfairly use Brian McLaren as their dartboard picture. He’s an easy target, no doubt, due to what is quickly becoming a prolific writing resume and his widespread appeal in the Emergent Church. However, he is better seen as the representative pastor of the emergent movement as opposed to the theologian and thinker. He is these things, but not nearly at the level of others. In large part, this area of theology is slowly gaining momentum in the academy. Better conversation points should be noted with N.T. Wright, Stanly Grenz, and John Franke, among others.

The end of the clip shows the climax over the issue of homosexuality and the “audacious” claims of McLaren. I don’t want to post at length here, but the last thing I wanted to do was to share in the standing ovation of the crowd. The sharpness and condescending tone of their remarks were also unfortunate.

The relativist perspective they caricature is never seriously dealt with but cast aside in reference to extremist points. The one point they make that I feel needs further conversation among “evangelicals” is the accusation of the emergent movement as conservatives (theologically) finding of liberalism. There is some truth in this for much of what I read. I think the conversation at large is not confined to this, but it is a contributing factor. However, as a true postmodernist, I have to say that I don’t find much help in those categories they loosely throw around. Anyway, for what it’s worth, this video explores the reaction conservative evangelicals are having to postmoderns.

The Priesthood of Melchizedek and Pluralism

I have mentioned in previous posts my interest in the role of the Gospel in a pluralist society to borrow the words of Lesslie Newbigin. As I grow older and attempt to settle into an area of interest, I keep coming back to this one. Pluralism may be the issue for the church of the future. What do we think about all those Muslims, Buddhists, Shintos, Scientologists, etc. that our children will go to school alongside, attend college with, sleep over at one another’s houses, and marry? Is our faith guilty on the frequently-thrown charges of being “narrow-minded”? How exclusive is Jesus’ claims of being “the way, the truth and the life” as we so oft like to quote?

In my own thinking, I keep coming back to the Genesis account of a seldom mentioned priest-king named “Melchizedek” that comes from the land of Salem (which apparently was Jerusalem) bringing Abram bread and wine and the blessing of God Most High. What in the world is this account doing smack dab in the middle of the great Abraham story? He steals the show for a verse or two.

Beginning in Genesis 12, the Genesis account details the life of Abraham because God chose him to bless. From the reader’s vantage point the selection was arbitrary. We’re given no reason for his selection. “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” we’re told before he saves the world from the flood, but no similar indication is given to us regarding Abram. God just chose him.

From here on out, the biblical narrative focuses on the lineage that runs through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, eventually through Moses, and then Israel and Judah. From the standpoint of the Torah, those outside Israel were outside the vantage point of God. Great provisions were made for the “aliens” in the law, and Israel was to treat them well, but for the most part they went into these foreign lands and blasted them – men, women, children, and all.

That bode fairly well for me when I was a teenager, and even into college. That’s the way it was back then. God could have them blasted because they were an evil people, and God’s character being holy, had to get rid of all the vileness that was opposed to him. Same as today. Those who are outside of modern “Israel” (ie. the church) are to be treated well and loved, but cannot be forgiven outside the camp of the church.

Enter Melchizedek. It doesn’t take much brain exercise to imply that through Melchizedek’s appearance in the Genesis account we learn that God was indeed active outside of the biblical narrative. OK, that just doesn’t give enough creedance to the implications. He wasn’t just “active” making flowers bloom, trees release carbon dioxide and everything . . . there was a whole other line of stinking priests! I mean, these were to be the “with God” folks, the interceding ones – and there was a whole other line out there somewhere. And we don’t konw anything about them! Melchizedek simply shows up, offers a blessing, and takes 10% of Abram’s stuff. THink of the plethora of questions that I was never allowed to ask!

Who was he “priesting” for?
What was his “priesty system” like?
What happened to them? Where did they go?
Did they get word of Jesus’ life, burial, and resurrection?
And the questions go on and on for me.

Here’s what it does to my thinking today. I hear Christians all the time who are so quick to condemn people from all walks of other faiths, usually without a lick of knowledge about their beliefs. I heard a professor quote someone at a lecture a few months back (that’s a good reference) paraphrasing as best I can remember, “No one really knows his own religion lest he has learned the beliefs of another.” How true that must be. I remain utterly ignorant of all other faiths. I can tell you very little about other Christian groups to say nothing of what I know about nonChristian faiths. What does that say? I’m a little narrow-minded (ok, a lot narrow minded).

How can I say Jesus is the way, when he’s the only way I know? How can I say that he’s better than everything else that’s out there, when I don’t know what’s out there?

OK, before you think I’ve completely sold out to John Hick’s pluralistic notions of Christianity, I don’t say these things gleefully or assuredly. Instead they are real questions. Living in the conservative cities I have lived, I am still amazed to see the diversity that is the United States, and I am utterly unprepared to enter into dialogue with the majority of these people.

The Bible makes lofty claims that many of us are scared to test. If the Bible really is true, we shouldn’t have to dress it up on tee-shirts and bumper stickers – we should be able to tell it like it is (sounds a little reminiscent of what Paul did.) If the major faith groups could come together for dialogue, and if our take on the truth is more productive and “good” people will be convinced. Not by its “correctness” but by its goodness. So whether the priestly order of Melchizedek has come through the lineage as the Latter Day Saints or Tom Cruise, we’ll never know lest we have open and honest dialogue and lose our fears.

Aren’t all religions the same?

If you haven’t heard this question, you haven’t talked to many non-Christians lately. It’s a tough question. One that Christians haven’t respected for very long. I’m not sure many are prepared to answer it, and yet it is a thoroughly relevant question for a generation of people growing up in the midst of a global economy, global politics, and global community. What about the other folks?

In John Burke’s book No Perfect People he wrestles with the question. He devotes an entire chapter to the question noting the frequency it comes up in conversing with non-Christians. It is a great, great chapter by the way. Worth the price of the book (I think Brian McLaren might have said that on the cover – it’s not in front of me).

Burke believes that this is so frequently asked by non-believers because it challenges their postmodern sense of tolerance and acceptance. How can a group that worships someone who claimed to be “The Way” and the only way be very fair? I remember this discussion coming up in a theology class at Lipscomb. How could God zap these poor Native American spiritualists who honestly and devoutly sought their “God” [Ie. the Great Spirit]? That just doesn’t seem fair?

So it makes sense that that question quickly arises from the lips of the non-believer to test our “acceptance.” How accepting are we? Many view Christians as very non-accepting and narrowminded. It puts up a barrier before conversations even begins.

The issue is no doubt a tricky one, and I doubt few who read this will agree with me, but I think that it is an unnessary hindrance to hold a doctrine of God that is so exclusive that no one outside of organized Christian religion can be saved. Some Christians like to take the out, “Well . . . only God can save and condemn.” And that’s a true statement, but why not go further.

Enter: Melchizedek. If this dude doesn’t make you do some theological cartwheels nothing will. He shows up out of the blue in Genesis. God is working through Abraham, the extent of our knowledge regarding God’s revelation is through Abraham. And he is the priest king. Not only a “godly” king . . . but a priest . . . someone who has a pastoral role with God. Hmmm . . . where does he come from? How does God speak to him? Who does he minister to? Where is Salem anyways? These are big questions that for some reason we just skip past and get to the neater, more familar stuff with Abraham, but Melchizedek doesn’t go away. Jesus is even compared to Melchizedek in Hebrews. He comes up again. It’s astonishing. Who is this guy and what has he done with my clear picture of Yahweh in the midst of his salvation history?

He creates a bit of a mess. And it’s a mess that we should just leave a mess. “What about . . .” questions are fun to discuss, but they should never be allowed to be a hindrance to someone’s coming to faith. If someone can’t believe in a God that would damn Africans in a remote village . . . then Yahweh doesn’t have to be that God . . . for them . . . at first. It’s a beginning point. This stuff is more of the meat and potatoes to be savored and discussed once a relationship with God is established. Yeah there is a real subjectivity here, but how can it be avoided? Where are we going to go for the “truth”? A truth untainted by perspective and experience? Good luck finding that!

I challenge you to wrestle with the issue, What about everyone else? What about the other major religious faiths? What about those who haven’t heard? Anyone interested in dialogue here, make a post and we’ll pursue it further.

History

A few years ago I learned about a news documentary program on PBS called “Frontline.” It’s PBS’s version of Dateline and 20/20, only there are no commercials and they are not as restricted in their content since they take less commercial money. Over the past few years I have seen some of the most interesting and provocative stories. They tackle everything from religion, politics, sports, and everything in between (I was dissappointed that last week’s episode about Wal*Mart’s use of Chinese imports was post-poned due to pope coverage).

Last night Mary Beth and I watched an episode titled, “Inside the Camps.” In place of a new program, they aired a British documentary that showed footage of the Allied forces liberating several of the Nazi concentration camps. I suppose it wasn’t anything that I hadn’t seen before (I can still remember seeing the dead and mangled corpses in my 9th grade World History class), but the sheer horror of that era brings me to a place that I’ve never been before. Most people know that I am probably generally skeptical of a Christian’s involvement in the military, especially in times of war. However, that view is especially to hold consisently in view of WWII. To think of a nation standing by idly as these things were happening is absolutely repuslive. Many people like to naively look back at this war and think that the idealistic Americans rushed to the assitance of the world, but we have to be reminded that we weren’t involved until the Japanese came into our neighborhood and bombed our nation. We’ve always been idealistic, haven’t we? What if we had gotten involved earlier? Could some of the incredible carnage been stopped? How many were killed during this time? 7 . . . 8 million? 3 to 4 million alone in Aushwitz. Those numbers are beyond my comprehension.

Enter a theological dilimna. If there was ever a time that God should have intervened in the events of this world dramatically, immediately, and swiftly, it should have been during this timeframe. If I can look down upon nations for standing on the sidelines, what of the God who has the power to make it all stop? What of Him? This is a true faith dilemna that if you haven’t at least wrestled with your faith isn’t as strong as it could be.

Another dilemna. What of all the Jews? I come from a faith tradition that would probably condemn them because of their nonfaith in Jesus Christ – something I feel is necessary. But these people are God’s chosen race! How sad these years must have been! The only joy that God could have possibly seen is in the salvation of them who were being holocuasted. A God that stands aside and lets the Holocaust happen, only to Holocaust them in the afterlife is not the God that I see in Scripture. These were people of faith (the Lutherans included here we often fortget). Their God was Yahweh. The God that I know was at his greatest grief during this time, and he was at his greatest righteousness as he welcomed them from thier incredible suffering into eternal peace in the kingdom.

As the pluralism of this world multiplies, Christians must reevaluate our understanding of Jesus’ claim to be “the way, the truth and the life.” What does this mean? Does it mean that no one of any other faith is ever saved? Our quick “yes,” should be slower and more reflective. The Bible has never been black and white, and we should not allow this complex issue to become.

As the final survivors of the Holocaust slowly pass from this earth, humanity needs to hear their stories. We must never forget the darkest time of humanity, lest that darkness be eclipsed by a more brutal dictator in the future.

Super Bowl XXXIX and other ramblings

Hey, another Super Bowl in the books. We had a good time at church last night. We rented an inflatable velcro wall that the teens enjoyed, we also had some karaoke, and a dodgeball tournament. The dodgeball tourney was a last-minute addition, but worked out well. Alum Creek had about 30 people and the Assembly of God from down the road brought about 20. I was really excited that they came back again. Hopefully we’ll be able to further that relationship, but I am finding it difficult to branch out to other denominations for many reasons. Life is so different inside each brand of church. They do things there way, and we do ours our way: that I’ve always known to be an obstruction, but it is more than that. They have their vocabulary, we have ours. They sing their songs, we sing ours (the instrumental thing is an obvious one, but not as big as just knowing the songs that each other sings). They have their unique problems, and we have our very unique problems. I know it can be done, but it requires much more wisdom and knowledge that I have, so hopefully God will be gracious here. If we could all just read Jesus’ prayer in John 17 and really understand and really believe what it is he asks for from his people – then maybe we would get serious about coming together. Unity may very well be our best opportunity for witness in this dark, fragmented world. Who knows? Until we do know, I will continue on in my attempts with local congregations, and Christian groups. As I face the differences there, the differences upcoming in discussions with non-Christian groups becomes even more ominous. But the good thing about God is that he is that big. He can help me get through this struggle, and he can give the church the vision to get through it as well. I’m tired of the isolation. I’m tired of the bickering. And I’m tired of the unwillingness to work together. I’m tired of pastor’s egos keeping them from coming together, and allowing the spirit of competition to infiltrate their ministries, and our churches. God forgive us. Thank you for the small doors you’ve opened here. Please break them open wider. Push us through them . . . to places we never thought we would go.

Adam