25 December 2013

Longfellow on Christmas

And in despair I bowed my head;
    "There is no peace on earth," I said;
        "For hate is strong,
        And mocks the song
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!" 
    Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
    "God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
        The Wrong shall fail,
        The Right prevail,
    With peace on earth, good-will to men." 
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "Christmas Bells"

23 December 2013

She is a woman

The average Christian in the world right now is an African or Latin American female in her early 20’s. She doesn’t read our blogs and she doesn’t read Christianity Today. She doesn’t know or care who I am and she never will. The names Piper, Driscoll, Chan, Bell, Stanley, Warren—mean nothing to her. Like most Pentecostal women coming into the kingdom around the world, words like “complementarian” and “egalitarian” are not in her vocabulary, nor Calvinism and Arminianism. Unlike some of my brothers would lead you believe (where their lunch table is the only one that cares about Scripture and the Gospel while anybody who believes differently from them in these tired conversations are flaming liberals), she takes the authority of the Bible very seriously. But more importantly, she believes in the power of the Bible in ways that are incomprehensible even for our most rabid “conservatives.” The western filter and language that frames these issues will not be determinative for her, unlucky as she is not to read our blogs. She may well in end up leading a church one day where she preaches Jesus like a woman on fire and lays hands on the sick and watches God heal them, though this will surprise those Reformed colleagues who are sure all female church leaders have been trained by godless-Unitarian-lesbian-leftist-radical feminist-seminarians (she didn’t have access to seminary at all–unfortunately she has read the Acts of the Apostles). Who knew?
— Jonathan Martin

02 December 2013

Fear not deconstruction

The incredulity of postmodernity toward metanarratives derives from the fact that modernity denies its own commitments, renounces its faith, while at the same time never escaping it. … In contrast to this auto-legitimation, modern scientific culture externalizes the problem of legitimation. …. As such, modern legitimation has recourse to a universal criterion: reason—a (supposedly) universal stamp of legitimation. This move generates what Lyotard famously describes as metanarratives: appeals to criteria of legitimation that are understood as standing outside any particular language game and thus guarantee universal truth 
In this sense, the postmodern critique described by Lyotard as incredulity toward metanarratives represents a displacement of the notion of autonomous reason as itself a myth. And that is a project with which Christians ought to ally themselves, particularly once we have clarified that such an alliance does not require jettisoning the biblical narrative. By calling into question the idea of an autonomous, objective, neutral rationality, I have argued that postmodernity represents the retrieval of a fundamentally Augustinian epistemology that is attentive to the structural necessity of faith preceding reason, believing in order to understand—trusting in order to interpret. While this Augustinian structure is formalized—in the sense that there is a plurality of faiths, as many as there are language games—the structure (of faith preceding reason) remains in place, in contrast to modern (and perhaps even Thomistic) epistemologies (theories of knowledge). 
— James A. Smith, "Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church."

01 December 2013

Breakeven

The prophecy of Daniel 2 is a significant part of Adventist theology. The image of gold, silver, bronze, iron, and clay symbolizing the progress of world history represented by major empires. I take great pleasure in the thought of the rock in 2:34ff that will destroy the image, crushing it into pieces and then enveloping the whole world. Adventist theology espouses this rock as the second advent; it is Jesus coming in clouds of glory, not as the millenialists believe it as the reign of the church and the kingdom in peace until the advent. This rock will come once and for all; it is Jesus who will come to destroy empire and violence. He will come to crush the systems of oppression man as created, capitalism and communism, and he will rule in peace and justice. Jesus comes to liberate us. I take great pleasure in dwelling on Jesus’ destruction of the empire once and for all. The darkness and powers of this world will not hold us forever.

07 November 2013

The Adventist Confession of Unity?

In the last days, God says,
'I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.

'Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.'

I believe in God the Father, our Savior Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
I believe in the Church, the faithful Church.
I believe in the calling of God's people as ambassadors of grace and truth.

I believe in the soon coming of Jesus.

So let us serve Him, with all hands engaged, experiencing the transforming power of Jesus, until He comes.
Just as the body, though one has many parts -- we all are different, but we form one united body in Christ.
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
We stand united in mission.
We stand serving together until He comes.


11 September 2013

A common prayer, post 9/11

For those who mourn yet are not comforted, we pray.

For those who desire to mourn with them yet cannot find the grief to do so, we pray.


For those who wept on this night twelve years ago and found no joy in the morning, we pray.


For the mothers who have lost sons to cowardly and violent acts of religious extremism since that day, we pray.


For the innocent people and children who died because of reckless wars and drones supposedly because of that day, we pray.


For soldiers wounded, on the inside -- and out, we pray.


We pray for all through the One who promises perfect peace and justice -- 'take heart, for I have overcome the world,' amen.

22 August 2013

I woke up and wrote what I had just dreamt

I fell in love last night
With someone I never met
Everything about them made sense
I felt safe and warm and loved
To be in their arms and know it was right
at last, But then I woke up
And I wished Thoreau was right
We are most alive when we are in dreams awake
Perhaps God was letting me know what to look for
If I should find and meet and embrace with whom
I fell in love last night
With someone I never met
And will probably never meet
Unless God was foreshadowing my future

24 May 2013

The Kingdom

Manuscript for 6 April 2013

We come to church this morning mindful of the violent world we live in. This is the way things are this side of heaven. This is the way earthly politics works. But today I come to you bringing a message of another kingdom, a message of a new politics. Keep that in mind as we listen for the Word of the Lord today.

As we see our children grow up, we try our best by the grace of God to raise them to be God-fearing men and women. We want them to be good Christians and good Adventists. We want our children to be successful, to be productive citizens of our country, to be strong in the community. Our parents wanted the same thing of us. So naturally, as our children, our young people reach an age where they are to make big life decisions; they try their best to make good choices. And they will ask questions to figure that out.
Why am I alive?
Why am I here?
What is my purpose in life?
These are all leading to one of the greatest questions we can ask ourselves: What is the will of God in my life?
We may still be asking ourselves these questions even now as adults. Even in an older age, as adults, we may still be asking what is the will of God in my life?
This is a good question. This is an important question, and that is something we will answer.
We will answer that question What is the will of God in my life? and and maybe I can explain why I am here in this part of the world today.

06 May 2013

Draft: On my mother's cooking


I’ve lived away from home for nearly six years now - that’s more than a quarter of my life - I turned twenty not too long ago. I went to boarding academy for high school and I’ve been away for college and my time abroad. Naturally when I come home or if somebody starts talking to me about home, they might ask “I’ll bet you miss your mother’s cooking.” And I’ll smile, but inside I really want to say, Why would I miss my mother’s cooking? We’re not an African-American family from the South or an Italian clan from New York. 
Honestly, I wonder, what could be so special about one’s mother’s cooking? No offense to my mother or anything, it’s not like she’s a horrible cook, but I just don’t understand what could be so great about her cooking?
Perhaps now I should provide some sociological context to explain my disillusion with the prestige placed on matriarchal gastronomy. My family is Asian so we’ve got the rice and tofu thing going on, and we’re also Adventists so we have a strong emphasis on vegetarian dishes. …
See, I don’t say I terribly miss my mother’s cooking because to say I miss my mother’s cooking seems to support a misogynistic complementarian ideology. It suggests an image of her slaving away in the kitchen while I sit at the table waiting to be served. That’s not the way things were with me and my mother, so maybe that’s part of why I can’t say I miss my mother’s cooking. 
You know what I miss? I miss my mother. I miss working in the kitchen with her, experimenting with cooking techniques or trying new recipes. I miss discussing the ingredients we used and ways we tried to make it healthier. I miss looking at a cookbook with her and planning a course for a potluck, or a party, or a Friday night dinner. I miss going to a restaurant with her and critiquing the food, telling ourselves we could do it better. I miss the table discussions where we talked about our week, our plans for the next, or my goals for the future.
Maybe part of it is that there is an egalitarian agreement between me and my mom. From a young age she could see that I was independent and that I could lead. She started giving me household responsibilities and I started taking motherly duties seriously. Eventually she started seeing me as something of an equal when I became an adult. Sure I’m still her dear little boy; I’m her son and still subordinate to her, but when it comes to things like laundry, or gardening, or the kitchen - it isn’t about what she can do for me. It’s about what we can make together. So that’s why I don’t miss my mother’s cooking. Because it isn’t about her cooking - it’s about us coming around that table together. That’s what I miss.

13 March 2013

On that trite ridiculous cliche on faith

     “On airplanes, I dread the conversation with the person who finds out I am a minister and wants to use the flight time to explain to me that he is “spiritual but not religious.” Such a person will always share this as if it is some kind of daring insight, unique to him, bold in its rebellion against the religious status quo. 
     Next thing you know, he’s telling me that he finds God in the sunsets. These people always find God in the sunsets. And in walks on the beach. Sometimes I think these people never leave the beach or the mountains, what with all the communing with God they do on hilltops, hiking trails and … did I mention the beach at sunset yet?
     Like people who go to church don’t see God in the sunset! Like we are these monastic little hermits who never leave the church building. How lucky we are to have these geniuses inform us that God is in nature. As if we don’t hear that in the psalms, the creation stories and throughout our deep tradition.
     Being privately spiritual but not religious just doesn’t interest me. There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself. What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you. Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself.
     Thank you for sharing, spiritual but not religious sunset person. You are now comfortably in the norm for self-centered American culture, right smack in the bland majority of people who find ancient religions dull but find themselves uniquely fascinating. Can I switch seats now and sit next to someone who has been shaped by a mighty cloud of witnesses instead? Can I spend my time talking to someone brave enough to encounter God in a real human community? Because when this flight gets choppy, that’s who I want by my side, holding my hand, saying a prayer and simply putting up with me, just like we try to do in church.
— Lillian Daniel, minister of First Congregational Church - United Church of Christ in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, 31 August 2011.

02 February 2013

On the God who cries with us

Jesus’ outcry ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ echoes every victim’s outcry. When a hungry child cries in starvation, a child is sexually or physically abused or molested, a child is despised and discriminated against because of the color of his or her skin, a woman is raped, a homosexual person is murdered, a poor person shivers in the cold, a prisoner in a dungeon is tortured, a person is injured or killed in a war, or an AIDS victim dies, Jesus’ shrill outcry ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ reverberates across the valley of the shadow of death.
— Andrew Sung Park, "Triune Atonement"

13 January 2013

Draft: Eureka–I have found it

The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hides and for joy therefore goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field.

Eureka. I have found it.

I have found it in movement, in traveling through a sky as the sun sets and the stars wheel forth from their daytime hiding places, or in traveling along the trite journey of this life.

I have found it in stillness, in the echoes of Beethoven’s joy on a piano, in the peace that comes with Earl Grey in the afternoon.

I have found it in reading, in the stories and the writings of martyrs who died because they found it, or in the carefully chosen thoughts inscripted on the first page of a book from my mother who's always prayed that I'd find it.

I have found it in buses I rode in projects in tired old towns, riding with kids who came to our church youth programs probably wanting candy more than they wanted to hear about values and God, but we knew we were making a difference.

I have found it in a coffee shop in the university district as I sought advice from a dear pastoral sage, and I found the edge to go a thousand miles chasing a dream.

I have found it in a simple hidden café along a Midwestern road, where every Friday afternoon I wrote ideas and sought refuge from a school where nobody knew my name, but the waitresses here did.

I have found it in the homes of students I tutored - homes of single parents and of immigrant families, moms who worked hard to see their children succeed, and I was there to help where they couldn't.

I have found it in the vegetarian meatloaf my mother makes nearly every Sabbath eve, except it's horrid when I try to make it - so I ask for the mercy of the Chef Upstairs, that I may be found at least faithful to the recipe; this isn't just any Special-K loaf – it itself represents the shalom of the Shabbat for me.

I have found it in the smiles of street urchins - you know, the kids you meet on mission trips; they follow you around and it’s like you're Jesus on the mount, and they don't have much but you see they are richer than you.

I have found it in the rain, as it splatters on your head but you don't care because you've solved some great world crisis, or you've fallen in love, but neither of those things have happened to me, still I've found it in the rain on my head anyways.

I have found it in the gracefulness of my aging and slowing grandmother whose eyes twinkle with consistency, not knowing if there'll be tomorrow, but knowing there'll be that morning.

I have found it sitting in a train passing through the heart of rural America, the blue sky and wispy clouds above me, fields and farm houses passing by, and the steady peace rhythm of the tracks below; and in this fifty-hour long cathartic journey I thought long and hard about my life and my future, and though I didn't get answers, I found peace.

I have found it in my blue necktie, when a local person whom I don't know sees me wearing it on a Saturday afternoon, and contextually figures I'm an Adventist, asking me, "Are you working today?" and I say, "No. I'm not a minister just yet," but I am delighted knowing I look like I fit the role.

I have found it in the words of a president who said we find ourselves in this crisis because of our collective failure to make hard choices, but we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of rebuilding (in our case, not America, rather) the kingdom of God.

But there are times when it seems I have lost it

I have lost sight of it when I see a dark growing chasm between conservatives and liberals, as fundamentalists work to marginalize outsiders and those who think differently.

I have lost sight of it when believers make the grave error of entwining nationalism and faith, undermining the cultural transcendence of the kingdom; or when preachers confuse prosperity and power with the gospel, destructing the integrity of the image of the suffering God.

I have lost it when I see Christians submitting to antipathy and exclusion, clinging to guns and the myth of redemptive violence, and failing to heed the prophets' calls to beat swords into plowshares, to seek justice and champion the oppressed, or to love our neighbor.

But then I find it again

I find it again when I wearily walk home from school at night along a quiet broken road, and in that great Adventist posture I look up into the sky, straining my eyes to see where I know someday I will see Jesus, and I ask him, "How much longer?"

And I find it again – when he responds.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they have found it.

Suffer the little children to come unto me, for they have found it.

Take up your cross and follow me, and you will find it.

Seek, and it shall be found.

10 January 2013

On education and seeking the Great Perhaps

   "We do not educate our children – at least I don’t – hoping they will grow up to be mild compliant objects of sweet music.
     I hope that at least some of them will have the edge that would make them get on a camel and go a thousand miles chasing a dream. And show up and stir the whole city because they're announcing that change is on the horizon. . ." 
— John McLarty, pastor of the Green Lake Church, sermon "Helping Jesus / The Magi", 22 December 2012.

09 January 2013

Fragmentation from freedom

     The fragmentation of Christendom into five new denominations a week is an inevitable product of the Reformation and the works of Tyndale, Wycliffe, and the New International Version translators. If Scripture is meant for all and capable of being understood by any, we become free to believe our varying interpretations. And though the last five-hundred years have been a democratization of dogma, it by no means has cultivated harmony and tolerance in Christianity. We think only we ourselves are right; the other Christians are wrong. But for us Protestants, if we think the Reformation was a good thing, that grace against legalism and the open availability of the Bible are good things - then shouldn't we ought to accept diversity in opinions and ideas as good? That we can disagree with earthly authorities, with our brethren, with priests and theologians and not fear burning at the stake? That we can believe differently - but together - and be welcome to be part of a community of faith - shouldn't we embrace this inevitability of reform?

UPDATE 31 March 2013: I have been thinking more about this, and I realize that Christianity fragments into five new denominations a week because we try to apply pre-Reformation papal authority in a post-Reformation context. Why don't separatists and believers who believe differently just stay in a faith community or join a pre-existing denomination? There could be a number of logistical reasons, but one large factor could be that a church won't allow people to think differently or hold different beliefs. A post-Reformation church continues to implement pre-Reformation papal authority, and so a miniature Reformation happens over and over again when Christendom gets five new denominations a week. The apostle Paul did not envision this. Martin Luther probably didn't either. Unity does not mean conformity. It means diversity and equality and tolerance. 

01 January 2013

A Franciscan Benediction


     Why exactly this is a Franciscan benediction, I do not know. This prayer has untraceable origins, but it does exude Franciscan themes of social justice and a commitment to progress and peace. It speaks to the hushed aspirations of our generation.


May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that we may live deep within our hearts.
May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that we may work for justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done.
Amen.