RSS

Monthly Archives: April 2012

Moses the Power Broker

I’ll be posting the next part of ‘Ship Christians Only Can Say? soon, but I read this short post from Mike Metzger and had to post it.

Why institutions matter. Everything that follows is from Mike Metzger. Enjoy!

—   —  —   —   —   —   —   —   —   —   —   —   —   —   —  —   —   —   —   —   —   —   —   —   —   —

It’s stunning that while Christians understand marriage as an institution established by God, most evangelical Christians are anti-institutional. They imagine institutions as cold, calculating corporations. This explains why evangelical Christianity is often so powerless to affect real change in the world. It has become, as Theodore Roszak, a Professor of History at California State University memorably put it, “socially irrelevant, even if privately engaging.” The proper exercise of power requires a proper understanding of institutions.

Power is translating authority into action. Having authority is having dominion. Jesus said all authority has been given to him. He has delegated authority to Christians (what is known as the Great Commission). We don’t have authority over all creation, but do have it over spheres of creation, such as a local business or school. Power is the capacity to translate wherever we have authority into action. Without this power, our faith is socially irrelevant, even if privately engaging. This power comes internally from the Spirit of God and instrumentally from institutions.

The best book on this – other than the Bible – is Robert A Caro’s masterful tome on Robert Moses, called “The Power Broker.” In studying the life and impact of Moses, Caro learned about the power of institutions. It began with an “epiphany about power” in the early ’60s. Moses got approval for a bridge from Rye, N.Y., across Long Island Sound to Oyster Bay – a bridge so atrociously big that it would disrupt tides. Caro never imagined Moses getting approval. He had been incredibly naïve. “I got in the car and drove home to Long Island, and I kept thinking to myself: ‘Everything you’ve been doing is baloney. You’ve been writing under the belief that power in a democracy comes from the ballot box. But here’s a guy who has never been elected to anything, who has enough power to turn the entire state around, and you don’t have the slightest idea how he got it.’ ”

Moses got his power by heading, or sitting on the boards of, most of the most influential institutions in the city. I’ll be telling you more about this in an upcoming column. But this does raise a few questions.

Questions to ask:

  • Does your church know which are the most influential institutions in your city?
  • Does your church have a plan to head, or sit on the boards of, most of the most influential institutions in your city?
Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 22, 2012 in culture, theology

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

‘Ship Christians Only Can Say? Part II (Yoda and Bill Clinton make an appearance)

What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. 

It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so. 

– Mark Twain

(disclaimer – in all of the scenarios and examples I create and illustrate in this post, please know they do not represent my own views or the views of anybody else in particular. They are merely examples that have been plucked out from scenarios I have seen from people throughout all of my history with the church.)

Ok, where were we? We were talking about the bifurcation (or fragmentation) that we do in our lives (i.e. sacred vs secular, private vs public, etc) to help us avoid the fear of the other or the unknown. I don’t want to focus on the fear of the unknown too much; it definitely fuels the bifurcation, but it’s not the sole reason behind why we bifurcate. But I do think the fear of the unknown is still worth exploring a little bit.

Continuing on.

Fear of the unknown 

Please hear me out on this next illustration. When some of you read the name of who proffered this analogy, which was Rob Bell, you will turn your brain off because sadly many people have ignorantly thrown the baby out with the bathwater (post coming on that topic soon) in valuable take-aways because of his most recent book, “Love Wins”. But I think this is an excellent illustration of why the fear of the unknown is so powerful. Rob Bell explains it like this: imagine all your beliefs are individual bricks in a wall and this wall is your faith – the trinity is a brick, the virgin birth is a brick, abortion is a brick, alcohol is evil, Jesus was a republican is a brick, homosexuality is a sin is a brick, strict creationism is a brick, the earth was created in 6 literal 24 hour days is a brick, the Bible being read literally is a brick, Jonah being swallowed by a fish is a brick, Jesus’s miracles are all bricks, the rapture is a brick, etc, etc.

Imagine that below is that brick wall I was talking about. The bricks are a rusty red and they are all stacked on top of each other.

the trinity the virgin birth abortion
jesus was a republican homosexuality is a sin young earth
the world and culture is evil alcohol is evil literal translation of the bible
the rapture hell is real & eternal torment jesus is the only way
the bible is inerrant god will destroy the earth evolution is wrong
God is a man original sin the resurrection
us vs them obama is the antichrist don’t question the church

You take all of these bricks, stack them on top of each other and build a strong, sturdy wall. But each of these bricks are interdependent of one another. What happens if you start to discuss one of your core truths which in effect is wiggling a brick? Or what if one of your truths is disproven somehow and you have to completely remove a brick? The structural integrity of the wall will be compromised and it is very possible it will crumble. If you build and construct your faith this way your faith might start to crumble. What’s on the other side of a deconstructed belief-system? The unknown. Can I trust God? Can I even still believe in God? Can I survive without a religion?

What’s next?

 
I am not God and I can not create him in my image

Hope is next. If we acknowledge we are not God.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55: 8, 9

It will mean that my understanding of the truth must be constantly open to revision and correction, but – and this is the crucial point – only and always within the irreversible commitment to Jesus Christ. – Lesslie Newbigin

Hold to Christ, and for the rest be totally uncommitted. – Herbert Butterfield 

Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord! – Lamentations 3: 40

We have to be careful about what we do with our assumptions about God that we are constructing as core immovable truths. So the fear in this instance is the effect that if one truth is disproven your faith will crumble and fall apart, and you don’t know what will happen if your belief-system falls apart or what needs to be done to rebuild it. Maybe we put too much faith in our beliefs and derivations about God, and not enough faith in allowing God to be bigger than what we think we know.

If you know what God knows, or have God all figured out your God is not big enough.

Sacred vs Secular and Filling the Void

So, how does all of this tie back into my original problem with what the pastor said? The problem is that he is teaching from the pulpit that it is ok to view things as sacred and secular which is what propagates the us vs them mentality and puts Christians at odds against the culture. If two issues, which seem in conflict, actually meet we won’t know how we’ll deal with it or if we’ll be able to process it. We don’t know what’s on the other side of our rationally-based faith. We have this basic need where things have to make sense to us. So in order to do this we compartmentalize the conflicting things – we keep them in their place. We conjure up belief (read: coping) mechanisms to make it seem to ourself that our made-up belief is in fact believable and copacetic.

It’s easy to convince us to believe because we want certainty.

We have a deep-seated longing to confirm our desire

for an ordered universe: a universe that makes sense,

a universe in which we are special, valued, and eternal.

And on top of it all, like the child who rationalizes her behavior,

we have a deep desire to convince ourselves

that we believe for reasons other than mere psychological need.

Hence we will often seek out evidence 

to support the already existing belief

and then pretend that our belief 

arose from the evidence.” 

– Peter Rollins

Sometimes we become conflicted with our own rationale; we feel that we have to recognize science because it truly helps society move forward…but we are not going to recognize all of it, or at least not the evolution part of it – that conflicts with my faith. We have to have a government because otherwise we’ll have anarchy, but we can’t let our faith or morals play into making laws because we don’t want to impinge un-commonly held beliefs if your party is not in power. And damnit, Petrino is a coach, not a pope, he’s not a role model, it doesn’t matter if he’s a man of integrity – just let him coach.

What’s on the other side?

Is holding a fragmented worldview the right thing to do in every circumstance? I would say definitely not in regards to what the pastor said regarding “fellowship” being solely a Christian word. The tendency to fragment or compartmentalize different things in our lives so they don’t cross over to certain other areas will cause confusion when there are true signs of God interwoven in our culture. How can we recognize truth found in our culture, if we can’t discern what truth actually is and compute that the two can peaceably coexist within each other?

There is more than just the bifurcation of words that Christians can only say vs words the world can say that cuts to the root of the problem. I think alot of times when we fragment things we tend to place a sense of value on these things and when value is involved then hierarchy and exclusiveness can occur. When hierarchy and exclusiveness occur then we place a high value on what we know, and that I know I’m right, and if you’re different then you’re wrong. Fear of the unknown can cause inert distrust and a sense of self-righteousness.

“To lose that which grounds us and provides us with meaning

 involves nothing less than losing the God of religion

 in whatever form it manifests itself in our life.” 

– Peter Rollins

What’s next?

What can be on the other side? For me, I found freedom. Freedom from the notion that my beliefs had to be bundled up and make sense with a pretty bow on top. With things that might not sit well with me I can hear the cognitive dissonance and on top of that hear the beautifully layered harmony.

note – language in the video

In my next post I’ll be continuing this series and touch on the reason behind why we have this fragmented worldview and how we can reshape our lenses.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 16, 2012 in culture, theology

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

’Ship Christians Only Can Say?: How Bobby Petrino, Yoda, and Bill Clinton Tie-in Together

They (questions) offer us a unique opportunity

to rethink what it means to be the Church,

not merely critiquing the presently existing church 

for failing to live up to its ideals,

but rather for espousing the wrong ideals. 

– Peter Rollins

Several weeks ago I was sitting in church, probably just surfing on my phone, and the pastor made a comment that made my head snap up like a yo-yo being yanked upward. I was fully focused on listening to how he was going to explain what he had just said.

Before I jump in, please trust me, I am writing this not to solely criticize his statement/attitude; but I do believe what he said is bad theology and also a prevailing thought shared by many in the Church (the church-at-large); if not always explicit in word (although in this instance it was) it is most certainly implicit in actions. Overall, I want to try to make our church culture in Arkansas (and elsewhere) better.

Here’s the story:

The pastor was telling a story about how one afternoon he was just cruising around on the internet and saw an advertisement of a gathering for single adults that said, “Come and have some fellowship with us.”

{This next paragraph was his explanation of his gripe with that particular internet ad. When I started to write this post I listened to the podcast of the sermon when it was posted online to accurately quote what he said.}

“Man, don’t use our word! That’s not “fellowship”! “Fellowship” is not any casual human interaction that we have. “Fellowship” is not two christian guys getting together talking about how great the razorback basketball game was or how all their hunting exploits have been, that’s not “fellowship”. “Fellowship” is a lot deeper than that. “Fellowship” is not two people just getting together and working on something. It’s not you calling a friend and saying “hey, why don’t you come over and let’s do scrapbooks together and have fellowship. Well, maybe you will maybe you won’t. You say, “{Pastor} (name withheld), why are you talking about this?” Because there is incredible joy, listen friends, in genuine “fellowship”. Genuine “fellowship”. And “fellowship” is not some kind of mere friendship, “fellowship” is much deeper than that. It’s not a group of Christians getting together and having a potluck together. It’s so much bigger and deeper and wider than that.”

He went on to explain, in his opinion, what Paul teaches is required to have “genuine Fellowship”.

Deep breath…ok, I’m better. Let’s dive in.

So what’s the big deal? Why am I getting so picky about a word? First of all, even though “fellowship” isn’t used in our everyday vocabulary, I completely disagree with his definition of the word “fellowship”. I believe every situation he listed can be an excellent example of fellowship and yes, even worship, but overall that’s not what this post is about. It’s not the specific word that was used that is the problem. The false-ownership of a word is a problem, but the main issue is the problem behind the problem that I want to focus on. Some people in the Church (again, the Church-at-large) try to separate themselves from the culture in many different areas of life because they believe culture is bad and out to get to them. They isolate themselves and deem there are Christian words, watch only Christian movies, read only Christian books, and condone or criticize things under the banner of “God”, “Jesus”, or “the gospel”, when I wonder if God would want his name attached to some of those things. Yes, I’ll go as far to say this isolation and bifurcation is bad theology. I believe it portrays and creates a fragmented worldview and also creates an “us vs them” mentality. God called us to redeem (reclaim) his creation – this includes culture, but if Christians are separating themselves from culture and simply saying, “Come quickly Lord Jesus”…well, that’s the problem. So how does this “us vs them” mentality form?

Even in society as a whole (Christians and Non-Christians) we tend to hold a fragmented view of certain ideological issues in our lives: sacred vs secular; public lives vs private lives; and church vs state are just a few examples. Some Christians interpret the Bible as proffering this separation (which is borderline Gnosticism), they believe this bifurcation of sacred things and secular things (I don’t like the word “secular”) as acceptable to God. In this post and the next I’m going to hash out and explain a little more why this is not what God desires as our worldview.

{Yes, you can probably think of examples where the fragmentation isn’t a bad thing.  A boys bathroom and a girls bathroom – yes, that’s a good thing. But when the fragmentation does occur in the wrong instances it often leads to an undesired end.}

A bifurcated worldview tries to eradicate the fear of the unknown. And the fear of the unknown can cause us to do some childish things.

Here are two quick examples of a bifurcated worldview and also the fear of the unknown –

(quick note – part of this was written before the firing of Bobby Petrino and I am very impressed with the integral approach Jeff Long took in this situation.)

1) Bobby Petrino. Now, try to take off the razorback-red colored blinders for a second…  I can’t tell you how many times during this whole shameful incident I heard or read somebody say something along the lines of, “He’s our coach, he’s not the pope.”, and “We don’t care what he does on his own time, we just want him to win ball games.” That’s a clear bifurcation of his public life (his job) and his private life (his affair). And below even the waterline of people bifurcating his job from his actions, people have also bifurcated their treatment of a winning coach vs a losing coach. What I mean is, would Arkansans still be holding rallies and fighting for his job if he had an average record as a coach then had the affair, paid the woman and lied to his boss about the accident? Doubtful. Should we just care about wins and losses and not the way he carries himself in the community? Or should we value what the coach does wholly? So why all the angst from Razorback fans? Because Bobby Petrino is a damn good coach – he had won 21 games in the past 2 years and had them in the hunt for an SEC title this year which automatically put them in the hunt for the national title. Well the angst might be from what my favorite KC sports radio host likes to ask, “If not him then who?” Now that Petrino has been fired, what’s on the other side? A possible fear of the unknown. Arkansans don’t know for sure what’s on the other side since there is a coaching search just now starting, but Jeff Long did a damn good job in showing that overall integrity matters and he will attempt to make the appropriate hire. Fear of the unknown: greatly diminished.

2) Now, an example for my Jayhawk brethren on the fear of the unknown. We don’t have to think back too long ago to have a similar example. Roy Williams was our coach from 1989-2003. While on the job for 15 years at KU, Roy racked up – 4 final fours, 2 championship game appearances, several Big8/Big 12 titles, and won 81% of his games – a staggering clip. In 2000, the University of North Carolina’s coach Bill Guthridge retired and UNC (chiefly, Dean Smith) tried to coerce Roy to “come home to North Carolina” to be their coach. Roy graduated from North Carolina and was an assistant to Dean Smith their hall of fame coach. After deliberation Roy declined by saying, “I’m staying.”

Later on in the same press conference Roy also said, “The next time I have a press conference is when I’m fired, or I retire.”

What does that say to you? To KU fans it meant he was never leaving, that he would retire at KU. In 2003, UNC fired Matt Doherty, and came after Roy…again. What?! He already told us he’d never leave. Well, he left and we all felt betrayed. Now, we weren’t worried about attracting a top flight coach – we are one of the top 4/5 programs of all-time in college basketball – James Naismith (inventor of the game coached at KU), Phog Allen (grandfather of coaching, coached at KU and has our Fieldhouse named after him), Adolph Rupp (from KU, played under Allen, and coached at UK), Dean Smith (from KU, played under Allen, coach at University of North Carolina), Larry Brown, Wilt Chamberlain (player), JoJo White, Paul Pierce, (and many more of course) #2 school in all-time victories, 14 final fours, 5 national titles, countless all-americans etc, etc…but still there was the fear of the unknown. Who would we have as our coach, and would he do as good as Roy? If not Roy, then who? That thought was running wild through our minds when Roy left. Yes, I was bitter at Roy. He told us he’d never leave. I took my “Benedict Williams” t-shirt to the 2005 Final Four and was crushed to watch him when his first national championship. Enter Bill Self to replace Roy. Now, if you would have told us when Roy left that Bill would win 8 straight Big 12 titles, make it to 2 Final Fours in his first 9 years, have several all-americans, win at a better percentage than Roy (Self’s win % is 85% – ridiculous!), and that Bill would beat North Carolina the two times he’s faced them to this point, then the fear of the unknown would’ve been eased quite a bit. But absolutely 100% of the bitterness was erased in 2008 when Bill got to his first Final Four and beat UNC in the national semifinals, and also won the national championship in his 5th year as our coach that year. Fear of the unknown with Bill: 100% gone.

So what do I mean by the fear of the unknown? When we have fear of new ground that we’re approaching maybe it’s not the specific thing standing in front of us that is feared, but it’s actually the effect, or fallout, of what might happen that is feared…or maybe it’s a bit of both.

I’m not afraid of falling…it’s the landing that worries me.  

Make sense? If not, sit back and think about it for a second…look at the things you might bifurcate. I’ll try to pull it all in tomorrow with the second part (of 3 or maybe 4 parts) of this post. And remember this is all tying back to a bifurcated (fragmented) worldview that some Christians carry of “us vs them”. Tomorrow we’ll also hear from Yoda and Bill Clinton.

“Man, don’t use our word.” Man, I hope I never hear that again.

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 12, 2012 in culture, theology

 

Tags: , , , , ,