Thursday, November 27, 2014

Michael Brown's death and the prophetic fire


In the aftermath of a precious life lsot, a movement emerges


Wednesday, November 26, 2014, 7:00 PM

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. — The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On Monday night at 9 p.m., I (Peter) boarded a JetBlue red-eye in San Diego to fly back to JFK from talking about prophetic witness all weekend at the American Academy of Religion meeting, the annual national gathering of religion educators in North America.

Somewhere between consciousness and unconsciousness, I watched Fox News and CNN spread images of flaming buildings and smashed windows all across the nation in light of the grand jury’s decision on the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

Yet Fox and CNN missed the real story and the real fire in Ferguson. The true fire is burning in the hearts of a movement that has emerged in the wake of the destruction of Michael Brown’s precious life.

It’s a prophetic fire in our hearts that is finished with a nation that ignores the legacy of treating black and brown people as property, while obsessing over the property destruction that is the understandable outcome of human anguish and moral outrage.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Rambling through Romans (27): 5:6-11

While we were still weak, at the right moment, Christ died for ungodly people. It isn’t often that someone will die for a righteous person, though maybe someone might dare to die for a good person. But God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us. So, now that we have been made righteous by his blood, we can be even more certain that we will be saved from God’s wrath through him. 10 If we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son while we were still enemies, now that we have been reconciled, how much more certain is it that we will be saved by his life? 11 And not only that: we even take pride in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, the one through whom we now have a restored relationship with God.

Weak, ungodly – that’s how we were in our autonomy, our “damned” independence from God.  Yet even then Christ died for us.  We weren’t righteous, and far from good (the kind of person someone might actually die for!).  But while we were doing our best to break away from him, God’s love overtook us anyway in the death of his Son.

Having been reconciled with God through Christ’s ultimate act of love, we realize that he has saved us from God’s wrath too!  Luke Johnson tells us what God’s “wrath” is:

“. . . it is precisely the sort of expression that would have been instantly grasped by Paul’s first hearers but seems puzzling and off-putting to present-day readers.

 The ‘wrath of God’ (orge tou theou) is not a psychological category but a symbol (widely used in Torah) for the retribution that comes to humans as a result of their willful turning away from God; indeed, it is a concept that derives precisely from the prophetic warnings against idolatry (see Isa 51:7; Jer 6:11; 25:25; Hos 13:11; Zeph 1:15).

Although it plays a thematic role in Romans (2:5, 8; 3:5; 4:15; 5:9; 9:22; 12:19), it is used elsewhere by Paul as well for the eschatological (‘final’) threat that looms over those who oppose God. 

God’s wrath is therefore the symbol for the destruction that humans bring on themselves by rebelling against the truth. For those alienated from the ground of their own being, even God’s mercy appears as ‘anger.’ It is a retribution that results, not at the whim of an angry despot but as the necessary consequences of a self-distorted existence.” (

It is from “the necessary consequences of a self-distorted existence” that Christ has saved us through his death.

If God was pleased for us to be reconciled to him even when we were “spitting in his face,” is it any wonder that since Christ now lives he will take us up into his life and we will experience salvation to the fullest?

Though boasting is not usually a good thing (because we usually boast about what we have accomplished), but this thing God has done for us in Christ, this unbelievably goodness he has graciously sent our way, we can and will boast in that.  Forever!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

#ChurchTrending: How Trendy Was St Paul?


0 Sidenotes

How “trendy” was St. Paul? An analysis of his life and letters shows us a very culturally-aware and culturally-engaged apostle who was well-traveled, conversant in the idioms and ideas of various cultures, able to interact with popular poetry and philosophy, and eager to use symbolism from sports, war, and theater.+
And yet, and this is perhaps the most important thing to know about Paul as apostle at large, he was remarkably un-trendy in his perspective on honor and power. You see, in Paul’s world, the hottest commodity was honor or reputation. It wasn’t dying with the most toys that mattered – it was dying with the highest number of honors recognized by the most number of people, popularity through status and virtue. Sometimes a concern with honor can be a very good thing, like a business “priding itself” on fine craftsmanship or excellent, trustworthy service. However, good “pride” can all-too-easily turn into greed and self-absorption wrapped up in the paper of “reputation.” While many first century people tried to position themselves as superior in the great race for honors in culture, Paul was far too busy being untrendy in the work of the gospel. Here are four ways Paul was noticeably “untrendy.”+

Paul promoted hard work, not high positions.

One of the funny things about the earliest Christian leadership positions is that we have very few descriptions of them. Part of the reason for this, I think, is that leaders like Paul focused less on the “office” of the elder or pastor and more on the work and character of leaders. In 1 Thessalonains 5:12, Paul tells the church to respect those who “labor among you.” They are not told to respect these as “bosses,” but to acknowledge and honor the work and the workers who serve the people. This would have been noticeably untrendy in a world where you worked your way up to less labor-intensive positions. Is there not a message in here for us today? I am afraid too many Christians (pastors included) think that being a grace-filled community and people means that we can let hard work slide, especially when we can rest on our position’s “privileges.” Paul does not recognize “high” and “low” jobs, but he does differentiate between the hard working and the lazy (2 Thess 3:10-12).+

Paul valued transparency and integrity, not bright lights and entertainment.

Paul’s ministry was not attractive because of his showiness. He did not fill a stadium or make headlines (at least not in a good way!). His messages weren’t heart-warming in the “chicken soup for the soul” way. He was given a hearing because he spoke words of truth, words that pierced the soul. He was a “what-you-see-is-what-you-get” kind of guy.+
It is all the rage to be a polished communicator in our culture (just as it was in Paul’s), to look and act the part of the super-pastor – impervious to doubt, pain, problems, weakness. By contrast, Paul shows surprising intimacy and warmth that can be nothing but genuine. He shows meekness and vulnerability. He tells the Thessalonians – we felt so strongly about you – how could we not hand over to you, not just the good-news message about God, but even our deepest, most vulnerable and sensitive selves. Why? Because you became a community we fell in love with and cared for like family (paraphrase of 1 Thess 2:8).+
It is one thing for a pastor to say, from a stage looking out onto a dark auditorium with the undifferentiated faces of the masses, “I care about you.” It is another thing for him or her to really get to know them and say it, that this is real affection borne out of intimate and vital communion. That happens to be untrendy (because leaders might appear too needy and broken, rather than independent and perfect), but, in the end, extremely gratifying when you catch a glimpse of real “wounded healers.”+


Honor the Outrage: A Reflection on 1 Corinthians 6 and the Ferguson Grand Jury Decision

Posted on 11.25.2014

In 1 Corinthians 6 Paul chastises the members of the Corinthian church for taking each other to court. Suing each other was one of the many ways that church expressed and experienced disunity.

We don't know why the members of the Corinthian church were taking each other to court. But scholars are relatively confident that the lawsuits were being brought by the wealthier members of the church against the poorer members.

Given the power structure at play in Corinthian society the legal system "worked" for the wealthy and disadvantaged the poor and less privileged. Thus, lawsuits could be used by the wealthy to get their way.

In his book Conflict & Community in Corinth Ben Witherington describes the situation and its relevance for the problems Paul calls out in 1 Corinthians 6:
From at least the time of Augustus certain people--fathers, patrons, magistrates, and men of standing--were basically immune from prosecution for fraud by some kinds of other people--children, freedmen, private citizens, and men of low rank. Only if the lower status person had a powerful patron was there a likelihood that he or she could bring suit against someone higher up the social ladder...

To the wealthy, well-born, and well-connected went the chief rewards of the legal system, along with many of the other benefits available in society. There was a strongly aristocratic bias to the whole culture. Justice during the empire was far from blind and was often looking over its shoulder.

The importance for this for 1 Corinthians 6 is that at the very least one or both of the Christians going to court were probably well-to-do and hoping to exploit the judicial system to their advantage.
I'm bringing attention to the situation in 1 Corinthian 6 as I think it is relevant to how the White and Black communities are and will be responding to the Ferguson grand jury decision to not indict officer Derran Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.

Specifically, and eerily similar to the situation in Corinth, the church is being split by how it judges the fairness and integrity of the legal system.

Similar to how the wealthy and powerful members of the Corinthian church viewed their legal system, many Whites in the US view the American legal system as "working." This is, by and large, because legal systems tend to advantage privileged groups. Then and now.

By contrast, and similar to how the poor and less powerful members of the Corinthian church viewed their legal system, many Blacks in the US view the American legal system as "broken." This is, by and large, because legal systems tend to stack the deck against disadvantaged groups. Justice isn't blind but biased. To say nothing of how legal systems are often straightforwardly antagonistic and hostile toward disadvantaged group, tools of injustice and oppression.

Thus we have two groups of believers--the rich and the poor in Corinth and Whites and Blacks in America--with divergent views of the legal system resulting in disunity within the church.

For White America the justice system "works." Consequently, the grand jury decision not to indict Derran Wilson is trustworthy. The system did its job so we should abide by the decision. Justice has been done.

For Black America the justice system is and has been "broken." Consequently, there is no reason to trust the grand jury decision. The system is rigged. Always has been. No way justice was going to be done in this instance.

I want to be clear. From an evidential and legal standpoint I cannot say if the decision to not indict Derran Wilson was appropriate. I wasn't on the grand jury.

What I am talking about are the perceptions of trust Whites and Blacks have of the US legal system and how those perceptions affect the unity of the church in light of how we are responding to the news coming out of Ferguson. I especially want to draw attention to how many White Christians will harshly judge and condemn the outrage within the Black community regarding the grand jury decision. Many White Christians will ask, Why all the anger and outrage? The rule of law was followed, the grand jury did its job, the system worked.

But this easy confidence that the system "worked" is a luxury of the privileged. It is the same easy confidence that allowed the wealthy members of the Corinthian church to expect justice to break in their favor when they took their brothers and sisters to court.

The Corinthian church experienced division and disunity because its members had very different opinions about the degree to which the legal system was trustworthy versus broken, the degree to which the system was biased for or against them. The privileged and powerful trusted the system because it worked for them. And the same holds true for White America today. And you abide by decisions you trust.

But the less privileged and powerful in Corinth distrusted the system because it worked against them. And the same holds true for Black America today. And it is difficult to abide by decisions you deeply distrust.

And as these opinions divided the Corinthian church they divide the American church today.

So what's the solution?

I think one answer in moving toward greater unity is the same one Paul gives later in the book in 1 Corinthians 12. In that chapter Paul succinctly says, "But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body."

Unity is achieved by giving greater honor to the members of the church that lack it.

Unity is achieved in the church by rehabilitative honoring, caring and respecting, with the privileged and powerful giving greater honor and care--not balanced or equal honor and care but greater honor and care--to those who have lacked privilege, prestige, power or status.

And whatever that might mean for White Christians today I think it means at least this much, that we honor the outrage.

Agree or disagree, you honor and show care for the outrage.

Why Atonement?

As an example of an especially articulate use of this analogy for the Atonement, here is Shirley Guthrie (1927-2004), longtime professor of systematic theology at Columbia Theological Seminary:
If God loves and forgives us already, why atonement at all? Why did Jesus have to sacrifice himself to “pay the price”? Why did not God just say, “I forgive you,” and let it go at that?
We can catch a glimpse of the answer with an analogy in human relationships. Suppose I have done something that deeply hurts a friend, and he says so me, “That’s OK. It doesn’t make any difference. Forget it.” Has he forgiven me? What he has really said is: “I don’t really care enough about you to be touched by anything you say or do. You are not that important to me.” Not only that; he leaves me alone with the awareness of my guilt. He lets me “stew in my own juice,” refusing to help me by letting me know that he suffers not only because of what I have done to him but because he knows how I feel and can share with me my shame and guilt.
Good-natured indulgence and broad-mindedness, in other words, are not forgiveness and love but indifference and sometimes even hostility. Real love and forgiveness mean caring enough to be hurt, caring enough to put oneself in the other’s shoes and sharing his guilt as if it were one’s own. Real love and forgiveness are costly — not in the sense that the guilty must squeeze them out of the injured, but in the sense that the injured freely participates in a guilt not his own.
[Christian Doctrine (Richmond, VA: CLC Press, 1968), 253. It is currently published in the revised 1994 edition from WJK Press.]


Monday, November 24, 2014

A Missional Diagnostic - David Fitch

1.) Leadership:

  • Do the leaders here know their giftings/spheres of leadership? (Eph 4: 7-16 APEST)
  • Do the leaders here know how to lead in mutual submission one to another as a group?
  • Are the leaders here recognized by the community as the ones given the responsibility to lead in say evangelism? Apostleship? Teaching/organizing? Pastoring/organizing? Prophetic leadership?
  • Are the leaders empowered to lead and to cultivate more leaders on the ground in the neighborhoods.
  • Are the leaders leading? Submission is a posture of leadership not an abnegation of leadership? Does the leadership function within this dynamic?

2.) Gathering:

  • How many people are in the relational web of this community? versus how many people show up for worship gathering? To me the first question is probably more important than the second (although the second is not unimportant).
  • Is there a road map/a way for outsiders to know how to enter and become part of this community, and what makes this community what it is?
  • How many KCC’s  (kingdom cups of coffee) happen on a monthly basis from this community? (KCC = sitting with someone, listening, discerning what God is doing in someone’s life, whether God has brought them here for a reason? to be part of His Kingdom expression here at this community or another?)
  • Is there a public presence for this community? A way people can identify this community of Kingdom activity from outside the community? Website?  Public celebratory gathering? Is it too early for a public presence?

3.) Engaging – Being Present – in Surrounding Community

  • Do you know what it means/does not mean to be present in the places you live, work, play and raise families?
  • What are those places in your community/neighborhood?
  • How do you train/lead community participants in being present in the community?
  • Where are people being present? Homes, neighborhoods, third places, Moms groups, bars, social service agents, homeless/domestic abuse shelters. Local sports programs etc etc.

4.) Rhythms

  • Are you developing a sustainable life giving weekly rhythm of life together? Are you making space for God to work in and among you and in the neighborhood?
  • Tell me about the development of your worship gathering? How does it shape people in life with God and His mission? How is it woven into the lives of the participants and their everyday lives? Does it focus people too much on Sunday? Or does it lead out into everyday life?
  • Prayer. Where is prayer in the life and rhythms of your community?
  • Meals. How do you eat together? Does the Eucharist on Sunday feed a time of presence with one another in the neighborhood?
  • How do home groups function? Triads function? What do you do there? What is practiced there? Are these groups functioning in God’s presence for His work among people and around people and through people? (In, Up and Out)

5.) Practices

  • How are you leading people into the basic practices of being a people of God in His Kingdom for His Mission? Including:
  • Proclamation of the gospel: Is gospel being proclaimed for this context in the gathering? Are the participants learning how to proclaim gospel in their contexts through their lives? Do people know the difference between proclamation, explanation and or providing information?
  • Eucharist: Are the participants in the community being led into the Real Presence of Christ at the Table, to experience the flooding of God’s forgiveness, love, reconciliation and renewal of all things through the Spirit? Are they then learning how to practice this same presence in their meals in the neighborhood?
  • Reconciliation: Are the participants practicing reconciliation in all conflicts? Are they being led in this? And are they learning how to practice this same reconciliation of Christ in the neighborhoods?
  • Practicing Being With the Hurting/Least of These: Most of all, are the participants learning how to be present with the hurting? Not solve problems, but be present/with hurting people both inside the community and in the course of everyday life. Do your people know the difference between Presence in the community and  finding a Project in the community?
  • Most of all, when we gather together to worship, are we being led into the real presence of Jesus as our Lord and Savior for the world? Are we then being sent?

There are probably many more questions that have not made the list? For all you great missional coaches out there? What category would you include? What questions would you ask that I left out?


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Compromise, Hell!

by Wendell Berry

Published in the November/December 2004 issue of Orion magazine

WE ARE DESTROYING OUR COUNTRY—I mean our country itself, our land. This is a terrible thing to know, but it is not a reason for despair unless we decide to continue the destruction. If we decide to continue the destruction, that will not be because we have no other choice. This destruction is not necessary. It is not inevitable, except that by our submissiveness we make it so.
We Americans are not usually thought to be a submissive people, but of course we are. Why else would we allow our country to be destroyed? Why else would we be rewarding its destroyers? Why else would we all—by proxies we have given to greedy corporations and corrupt politicians—be participating in its destruction? Most of us are still too sane to piss in our own cistern, but we allow others to do so and we reward them for it. We reward them so well, in fact, that those who piss in our cistern are wealthier than the rest of us.
How do we submit? By not being radical enough. Or by not being thorough enough, which is the same thing.