Category Archives: Spiritual

Reconciliation Thoughts For The New Year

One author whose writings I revisit over and over again is Henri Nouwen.   If you are not familiar with him I highly encourage you to read some of his work.  A colleague of mine recently emailed some Nouwen quotes concerning the art of reconciliation that I thought I would pass along:

Reconciliation is much more than a one-time event by which a conflict is resolved and peace established.  A ministry of reconciliation goes far beyond problem solving, mediation, and peace agreements.  There is not a moment in our lives without the need for reconciliation.  When we dare to look at the myriad hostile feelings and thoughts in our hearts and minds, we will immediately recognize the many little and big wars in which we take part.  Our enemy can be a parent, a child, a “friendly” neighbor, people with different lifestyles, people who do not think as we think, speak as we speak, or act as we act.  They all can become “them.”  Right there is where reconciliation is needed.  Reconciliation touches the most hidden parts of our souls.  God gave reconciliation to us as a ministry that never ends.

And:

To the degree that we accept that through Christ we ourselves have been reconciled with God we can be messengers of reconciliation for others.  Essential to the work of reconciliation is a nonjudgmental presence.  We are not sent to the world to judge, to condemn, to evaluate, to classify, or to label.  When we walk around as if we have to make up our mind about people and tell them what is wrong with them and how they should change, we will only create more division.   Jesus says it clearly:  “Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate.  Do not judge; … do not condemn; … forgive” (Luke 6:36-37).  In a world that constantly asks us to make up our minds about other people, a nonjudgmental presence seems nearly impossible.  But it is one of the most beautiful fruits of a deep spiritual life and will be easily  recognized by those who long for reconciliation.

Amen Henri, Amen.

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Occupy Protests, Part Deux

Ok, now I must rant.   I might get in trouble with some peeps who follow this blog, but you’ve been wrong before (ha!)   As I stated earlier this month about the occupy protests I do not think they are a bunch of kooks and their concerns have merit.  I do not dismiss them outright, but I do not put much hope in them changing the world as we know it either.  There is no organic moral fabric to hold them together like the Civil Rights or Arab Spring movements.

Now comes maybe one of the most over the top statements about it to date, emanating from within Christian circles.  You should know that I like Sojourners and the material they produce.  Jim Wallis is a fellow Trinity International University graduate, and a good buddy of mine is very connected to them.  I’m not a hater.  In short I love what they do.  But this recent blog entry has me scratchin’ my head.

All ways in which human governments handle wealth are inadequate.   Socialism, Capitalism, Communism – all of them are fallen in nature.   Jesus was not for any of them.  He had his own system, as money is one of the things he talked about most in Scripture.  All of the ‘isms are brutal to the human condition in some shape, form, or fashion.  The Occupy Protests are a welcome response to try to speak into some blind spots of Capitalism.

However Anne Marie Roderick goes a bit too far when she compares the protests to a “Holy Spirit moment” and calls this a “spiritual movement.”  Is it an important moment?  Is it a movement the church should pay attention to?  Should the church speak into the present inequitable income distribution?  Yes, yes, and yes.  But is it a Holy Spirit, spiritual movement?  Au contraire, my sister.

If by “spiritual movement” Roderick was echoing Paul Tillich’s “ultimate concerns,” i.e. the concern to overcome death with life, the concern to overcome emptiness and meaningless with meaning, and the concern to overcome guilt and condemnation with forgiveness and reconciliation, maybe.   What is striking about Tillich’s notion is that all of us — whether black or white or brown or yellow, whether male or female, whether straight of gay, and regardless of nationality — all of us share these same ultimate concerns simply because they are so deeply rooted in what it means to be human.

I’m not sure it is even spiritual in that limited human sense.  But this isn’t a question of semantics.  I am going to take the author at her word.  She seems to be comparing these protests to an actual move of the Holy Spirit akin to what we see in the Scriptures.

F0r starters, is there any suffering for Christ?  Is anybody repenting of sins?  Is Christ being preached?   By the author’s own admission the movement isn’t even church centric.   A Holy Spirit moment?  A spiritual movement?   As they say on ESPN Monday Night Live “C’mon, man!”  Let’s refrain from lowering our ecclesiology to inspirational historical moments.


Stewardship vs. Risktaking

One of the big dilemmas in following Christ is the balance between being a good steward of what you have and taking risks. Can you leverage what you have for good? Or do you go for broke for the broken?

This comes into question at the individual level (i.e., what kind of house do you buy? what kind of neighborhood do I live in?); and at the collective level as well (i.e., do we buy a bigger church building? or sell all that we have?).

And this makes the ministry of reconciliation very difficult. Jesus’ teachings are easy to take to the extreme: the narrow road, the rich young ruler, eyes of needles, taking up your cross, etc. He didn’t have no wife, no kids, no job… I mean, if he’s telling the parable of the talents, it doesn’t seem like he would be speaking from experience, right? In our modern market economy, many of us (especially in the United States) are several degrees of difficulty from the disciples in terms of laying down their nets and following Jesus. What’s the worst that could have happened as a result of that initial invitation to discipleship? What, they go back and pick up their nets? But to be a Christ follower today, it seems that we have so many safety nets, even if we put down one, and claim to take risks, it feels like we just removed one layer of clothing over our already clothed body. It’s like saying, I take risks in the dressing room, but some people don’t have a jacket to face the cold. Our skin never really faces the elements like the people we supposedly are serving.

And yet with that one layer of clothing, we think to ourselves, well at least one person has something to wear thanks to my sacrifice, my work, my calling. Words like sustainability, boundaries, stewardship and self-care are common these days in the ministry/service world. I just can’t seem to find them in Scripture or in Jesus’ red letters. Instead, I read about four guys carrying a paralytic tearing the roof off a house to get him to Jesus. Not standing in line. Not knocking incessantly. Tearing the roof off the mother. The roof. OFF. That’s strange. I wonder how the homeowner felt about that. I read about a woman crawling her way through a crowd just to touch the hem of Jesus’ robe. She was rich at some point. She could pay for all the years of treatments. She’s a rich woman, but she doesn’t worry about her dignity, doesn’t care about saving face, doesn’t care about Jesus’ personal space, just gonna reach and grab the hem of his robe based off of some crazy idea that she got in her head — “If I touch it, something’s going to happen. Something.” Not a very sustainable plan. Not permission-seeking. No sense of boundaries. Really just one shot in the barrel. Going for all the marbles.

These people reek of desperation actually. I don’t know how to calculate this kind of behavior, and don’t really care to learn it. It doesn’t feel very smart to me, not wise in the “proverb”-ial sense. It doesn’t seem like good stewardship to me. I mean, wasn’t there more internal tension going on in the guy with the ten talents? I mean, how did he know he could get ten more? How much calculated risk did he take? What if you have no results to show for it? Was Jesus a better steward or a better risk taker? What risk is it if you’re the Son of God, really? I mean, I jest, but let’s be honest, with as much as we have going on in our societies today, just to leave the house and entrust myself to public transportation, I’m at the mercy of certain forces I can’t control. I lay my stewardship on the line. But perhaps you can hear me rationalizing now. I can hear me too.

Point 1. I think it’s important we not think of our roles in the missio Dei as too important. In fact, it would probably take a lot of pressure of many pastors and leaders to assume what we do won’t change the world. There needs to be a certain anonymity when it comes to reconciliation lest one party would like to take credit. Also, point 2, taking risks should be an act of obedience, not of guilt or self-righteous heroism (see point 1). Both stewardship and taking risks are two halves of the same coin. You gather stones, and then you slay the giant. And point 3, discernment and cultivating a life of spiritual discipline seems to be a part of this as well so stewardship never becomes a euphemism for hoarding and risk taking never becomes a euphemism for “messiah complex”.


Good Friday to You

Take time this weekend to be reintroduced to Christ