Archive for July, 2008

Paul introduces us to practicing the discipline of community in 1 Corinthians 8-11. As always, Paul sees the story of Jesus and those who follow Him as connected to and springing from the story of Israel. One other theme that is absolutely essential to Paul is this, stated by Richard B. Hays—“ethics is ecclesiology.” In Hays’ mind, Paul’s admonitions to the church on how to conduct themselves are rooted in his belief about the church. You act ethically because of what you believe the nature and mission of the church to be. This is a “culture-creation” idea. The culture of the church (ecclesiology—its nature and activity) is fleshed out through its conduct within its own and the rest of the world (ethics).

In 1 Cor. 8-11, Paul is dealing with the issue of idol meat. The issue boils down to the fact that community meals were held in Corinth and the meat from pagan worship centers that had been offered to false gods was being served. The church was struggling with its identity and interaction with the vastly pagan community around them, and Paul’s discussion here is rooted in the idea that idol meat in and of itself is nothing. Some of you know the idols don’t exist. Yet some of you used to worship those idols before you came to follow Jesus. For some it was walking back into the life of death, and for others it was a no-brainer.

The result was two-fold: those former pagans would be dispossessed of the uniqueness of Christianity on the one hand, and on the other if Christians were to move away from eating the meat entirely the lived message of the Gospel would be removed from the most highly visible Corinthian social event, the meals where idol meat was served.

Quite a theological/ethic pickle.

However, Paul does not advocate an individualized ethic (“I think its right for me, so you deal with it, bro”). This I think is where the deeper idea of the discipline of community comes into play. Paul frames it this way: Some of you can handle it, some of you can’t, so don’t damage community for the sake of your own level of acceptance. Do not eat idol meat if it’s going to destroy the community.

In essence, practice the discipline of denying yourself something that is totally “kosher” (snicker snicker) for you to have .You’re entitled to it. No harm in eating it.

Unless you will harm the community. Today, this means that Western-Enlightenment entitlement trumps community. It also means that there is no sense of “other” in our ethics or ecclesiology. “Rights” trump “righteousness”, which if rightly translated from diakonia really means “justice.” There is an ethic of loving one another and seeing justice done when we practice the discipline of community.

What this does is disarms the individualist urge in Christians. We’re already dealing with enough from the super-privatized spirituality that says, “You get right with Jesus and let everyone else do their thing.” Paul responds to this with a reminder about what happened to Israel—they began to take their own paths, and the nation lost its identity. Ethics is ecclesiology. How you deal with this issue says everything about what you think the church is meant to be. How you construct and live out the church as individuals in community will speak greatly about this Jesus and the New World message He is bringing to pass through your presence in Corinth.

In part 3, we’ll talk about the national identity under Jesus, chapters 10-11, and where the Joad’s encounter the discipline of community in The Grapes of Wrath.

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I began reading “The Grapes of Wrath” a week or so ago because of a few factors: 1) my mother in law bought a copy and then gave it to me 2) Tom Joad…well, a certain former taxi-driving blogger changed his name so I thought, “okay…” and 3) I read it in high school and I’m finding that I enjoy things now that I didn’t so much enjoy in high school (like long novels about the Dust Bowl).

As I read, given my life situation of being a husband and father, I find profound moments of despair in my own heart for the families represented. For Rosasharn and her baby, for Uncle John’s deep sense of guilt and sin, for Preacher Casy and Tom and their existential/transcendental crises. I feel the weight of being a father of a hungry child, the husband of a caged wife, and a man who is constantly looking over his shoulder.

But more than that, I see community. The moments of brilliance, the flashes of hope and grace that you see in this novel happen when multiple families interesect one another and share their common fate with a shoulders braced together. This stands in total opposition to the one-man tractors that invade Oklahoma early in the novel, or the single person landowners who milk the “okies” because they can–because hungry babies are zesty bargaining chips for the powerful.

The church needs to know such community. The word has really lost all meaning, to be honest, because it’s been written about and beaten to death through the last few years. Yet, it won’t go away. The idea of going it alone is a cultural expectation and a vomit-inducing one at that. Even the area of spiritual formation, which I am passionate about, has become simply a new set of ways to insulate yourself from community and feel self-sufficient in your “spiritual life”, which is not a destination but a path anyway. I see spiritual formation and spiritual disciplines as a beginning, with the end being contribution and abandonment to a greater community.

So, for the sake of the Joad’s, I’m going to post a few short musings on “Community Spiritual Disciplines” in which I’ll be using a phenomenal text, 1 Corinthians 8-11. Hopefully this will be “side meat” to your “swellin’ bellies.”

I want to deal with the realities that:
1) I feel spiritual formation/disciplines are still valuable and in no way part of a super-spiritual side show
2) I believe there is a healthy movement even in Jesus from solitude to community with both realities being contingent on each other and
3) I believe this is a signpost to disciples today in regaining a bit of the organic, wholistic life that God created us for (i.e. the poor matter  and cannot be ignored when you are practicing the discipline of community).

I welcome your comments. Be well friends.

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I met with my reading partner(s) today to discuss our most recent read which was Georges Bernanos’ “The Diary of a Country Priest.” My colleague is a professor of Christian Ministry at Lincoln Christian College and we both decided that this book would be a fitting text for classes on “pastoral character” (borrowed from Marva Dawn).

I would go a step further–I think this might actually be THE fitting text for Christian Ministry (other than Scripture). The reason being is that the young priest symbolizes and fleshes out what Henri Nouwen and others have tried to describe in statements like “Ministry is suffering on behalf of others.” Rather than advocating some sort of professionalized, CEO-model of ministry the priest feels deeply the brokenness and pain of his people, even when they don’t want him to and even when they take it out on him in the process.

The other important aspect of his life is that he is both shepherd and prophet–from within their pain he describes what Walter Brueggemann talks about in his collected essays on preaching (The Word Militant, Fortress Press 2007): the young priest “poetically articulates an alternative text or reality.” In the midst of empathy, he strongly and confrontingly points the way forward to the alternative path: the path of following, suffering, and rising with Christ. In the face of a cold French social system, he lives out empathetic and Christ-like presence even when threatened by his own fate. I won’t spoil the book if you plan on reading it.

I am all for the substance of Christian Ministry (which we are all called to and should be doing, right?) being to poetically articulate an alternative text that is centered around the ever-present shepherd/prophet Jesus who enters into the brokenness of others before calling them into healing, freedom and restoration. I really benefitted from the discussion of this book and would recommend it to you, esteemed friends.

I also enjoyed a cucumber sandwich on a zucchini yeast roll for lunch today. If I had been able to make my own mayonnaise the entire thing would have been home-grown. Brilliant. I’m going to get a cow.

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I am an advocate of local, organically grown food as most of you know. The last two years I’ve planted what I thought would be a pretty sufficient garden for my family, and last year the crop was bumper and this year, well, not as good but still enough to keep us eating good things for the majority of the summer. Local-grown advocacy has expanded as well, and it isn’t surprising that consumerism/capitalism/entrepreneurship have turned on the local-grown movement, or “locavores” as some call it. I’m offering two links for your inspection, of stories where local-grown works into the fabric of the culture.

“Detroit City Gardeners?”
“Local Grown–and we deliver?”

My point in offering these two articles is that I think there is an innate tie between spiritual disciplines (of which I consider gardening one), justice (not just “social” but real YHWH-brand justice), and the movement from brokenness and alienation to the God-intended nature of humanity. Genesis indicates that the inital relationship between humanity and God included, either for narrative or literal purposes, an organic relationship with the Earth. I find it very interesting then when I hear people talk about feeling “disconnected from God” when they have no connection with the broader organic whole of creation, including other people, efforts at hospitality/generosity/justice, and the Earth itself (Note: I have heard Rob Bell express this same thought, so I should say he did influence some of the wording).

Jesus’ greatest parables about the Kingdom of God had agri-centric themes such as vineyards, seeds, sowers, and harvests. Is that merely a result of a literary/rhetorical device, or is there some credence to the fact that perhaps a connection to the earth and the fruits and vegetables it produces is able to shape and reinforce a relationship wtih the Creator God?

I welcome your thoughts and your prayers for Holley, Bailey and I as we walk this path together.

listening: “bed of lies” matchbox 20
reading: “the grapes of wrath” john steinbeck

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I’m including the link below to an article from Salon.com that is an incredible example of discussion happening outside the typical Jesus-blogosphere regarding religion, faith, meaning, and transcendence.


For me, the key point here is where Carse identifies that he believes the fragmentation of Christianity has come largely from its being wedded to certain state/nationalistic themes. I could not agree more, however the chilling thing is that his prediction of Christianity’s demise is rooted in this marriage. The faith-tradition of following Jesus will die and disappear because Jesus is made subject to Caesar. Sounds like Philippians, no?

I will say that Carse is bathed in a modernist education with postmodern lenses, complete with relativism and the emphasis on Platonic and 19th-20th century German philosophy. Therefore, some of his stuff misses the greater point, namely that Enlightenment modernism is no longer the given structure for reality, and when reading Scripture or church history you must take into account the fact that it was written in a pre-Enlightenment period. You know, before we figured everything out. Hmm…

I am posting this for your reading (I know it is substantial but it’s worth it) for a few reasons:
1. To expose you to some comments perhaps outside the normal sphere of your interest
2. To engage in a discussion of what exactly makes up contemporary Christian life
3. To reveal the greater challenge of “poetry” in expressing the outworkings of discipleship

I’m excited to hear what you have to say on this score. grace and peace.

Listening: Imogen Heap, “Hide and Seek”

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my apologies if you tried to comment earlier. I had some pretty fierce moderation turned on…accidentally…please forgive me

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Dr. J.K. Jones is the dean of Christian Ministry at Lincoln Christian College
Dr. J.K. Jones is the dean of Christian Ministry at Lincoln Christian College

I have been truly influenced in the past 2 years by this guy. Dr. Jones is the type of person who you want to emulate, not because of what he claims, but because of what he does not claim. The picture will link you to an episode of a new podcast series that Lincoln Christian is doing–I take some divergent views on some of his comments, mostly because I have a knee-jerk reaction to anything that might verge on total individualization of the Gospel, spiritual formation, etc. but I love the discussion he brings to the table on the “dead guys.” Worth a listen.

The question/challenge I would like to hash out here is: what is the role of spiritual disciplines (defined here as practices which shape both mentality and habits in the mold of Christ) in the “irresistible revolution” that is taking place today? How can the “dead guys” be of an influence, comfort, instruction, guide, and challenge to contemporary Jesus-pilgrims?

Love to hear from you.

Today’s meditation: Lord, you have given me everything I will ever need.

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