Archives for posts with tag: theology

The New York Times Sunday Book Review recently featured Walker Percy’s theory of hurricanes, that “people felt better in hurricanes” and other “bad environments” rather than in good ones.

This rings true for me.

I was depressed in 1987 after three years of work in inner city Chicago.  Then on an October Monday morning (19th) Pam Ferguson called me at home to say that the building next door had fallen on our Temple Corps.  It had indeed.  The court ordered demolition had gone bad and two-thirds of the eastern section, the oldest, of our building was destroyed by tons of bricks from the tall derelict being used for heroin fixes and prostitution.  My attention, focus, energies were now engaged.  It could be said that I was now living life to the full.

It was a slap in the face.  And it made me well.

Is this what it means to be living a ‘this-worldly’ life?

Keith Clements describes Bonhoeffer’s this-worldliness as a “theological perspective in which the created world, including the human, is a world that God loves in all its creatureliness, and to which God comes.”

How does God come?  The answer is “just as you did it to one of the least … you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).  God comes to us.  We then have a choice.  Bonhoeffer’s poem Christians and Heathens makes this distinction even more clear.  All humans cry out to God for help.  But the Christian sees and goes to help those who hunger, thirst.  Who sit alone, unprotected, sick, alienated.  They cry out wordlessly and God comes to them, not in some mystical experience though I will not discount the rare occurrence.  God comes to them in us.  And we find God in them.  This is the message of Christians and Heathens.

True, ‘bad environments’ offer a therapeutic experience.  And, as Walker Percy suggests, such places may have universal appeal and effect on people.  You have experienced it if you’ve lived in a big city preparing for an approaching blizzard.  A theory of hurricanes resonates with Bonhoeffer’s call to the this-worldly life.

I’ll close with John Keble.  My Detroit days were an experience very close to my 1987 frame of mind, but they were days based on life experience which allowed me to balance dismay with engagement.  Two verses of Keble apocalyptically opened my view on the kingdom of God.

If on our daily course our mind, be set to hallow all we find,  new treasures still of countless price, God will provide for sacrifice.

The trivial round, the common task, will furnish all we ought to ask, room to deny ourselves, a road, to bring us daily nearer God.

Walker Percy


Here is a description from Addie Zierman’s blog of her When We Were On Fire.  Reading how it refers to the Christian subculture, I think ‘that’s what it was all about’.

That Christian subculture of the 90s Zierman refers to (my point of reference is youth ministry ala DC/LA triennial events, Dare to Share, the Christian youth/pop/music culture, nationally renowned Bible/conference teachers/speakers, and numberless more stuff) was an attempt to distance oneself from hopelessly unhip church.  A desperate attempt?

BonhoefferDietrich Bonhoeffer referred to a nonreligious interpretation of Christianity in his last letters from prison (April 1944 and on).  He critiqued the religious form of Christianity as no longer of use in a world that had come of age.  Instead, he suggested a Christocentric faith.  One which leads us to be of use to this world so loved by God who sent His Son, Jesus:  “the man for others”.

There is more to Bonhoeffer’s critique even uncomplete as it is in Letters and Papers From Prison.  Yet what he expressed 70 years ago about religious Christianity and what Zierman describes about today’s popular American Christianity all seems of the same fabric.

fogOver ten years ago Mike Yaconelli died when his pickup hit a light pole along I-5 while driving from Oregon to his home in Yreka CA.   Youth Specialties Update shared this from Mike’s wife on December 29, 2004, about one year after Mike’s death.

I found it in my files tonight while researching the subject of servant-leadership.  Karla’s parable seems appropriate as this old year passes.


A New Year’s Parable

Driving in fog is something I normally try to avoid, but this time it wasn’t possible. It was 4:30 in the morning, I had a very early plane to catch, and between me and the airport (normally just an hour away) was a mountain pass and a valley filled with dense winter fog. After 15 minutes of driving on the freeway at 25 mph, I realized I could be in danger of missing my flight, and my frustration began rise as I swore under my breath. Shortly after that, as visibility continued to decrease, I began to appreciate the fact that I could simply be in danger, period. The fog had turned to “pea soup.” I felt the nervousness rise in my throat. Two vehicles sped past me in the fast lane, their tail lights completely disappearing in a split second. “Idiots!” I said aloud.

I was alone. No tail lights, no other vehicles…only fog. Visibility dropped to a mere 10-15 feet in front of me. It certainly wasn’t safe to pull over, so I slowed to 10 miles per hour, crept along, and began to pray. At some point, I became aware that someone else was following behind me and wasn’t going to pass, no matter how slow I went. Their headlights, reflecting in my mirrors and bouncing off the cumulus surrounding me, were actually making my own visibility worse.

A full ten minutes later (which seems like an eternity when you really can’t see where you’re going), a set of taillights sprang up in front of me. I’d come up behind an SUV—one that had earlier passed me going far too fast. It had finally slowed to a crawl and was following a brightly lighted semi truck. The semi truck was illuminating the way for the SUV…and the lights from both vehicles began lighting the way for me. No longer the leader, it was amazing how much better I could see. At one point, buying into the illusion that the fog had actually lifted a bit, I switched to the left lane to pass both vehicles. I had a plane to catch. As I moved ahead of them, I discovered that without their lights I couldn’t see anywhere near well enough to travel faster than we were already going. The choice between seeing clearly or being the lead vehicle was a no-brainer; I fell back into place behind the truck and the SUV.

With the truck’s many lights now illuminating the way for three other drivers, I found myself wondering about the truck driver’s vision. I’d been in that fog with no one in front of me, and I KNEW how dense it was—it was nearly impossible to see the road! Yet the truck driver drove steadily, confidently, leading a small parade through unknown territory. With the increased visibility that the travelers in front of me offered, I exhaled. My grip on the steering wheel began to relax. I even lightened up about missing my flight and began making alternate plans in my head.

At last our little caravan drove out of the mist, and I sped off, anxious to get to the airport. I waved my thanks to the truck driver as I passed, and he flashed his lights at me in return. I actually did make my flight, in the nick of time.

The little 2-prop plane bumped its way above the clouds and burst into clear sky as the sun was about to rise. From above, the clouds looked angelic—like cotton candy. Looking down on the fog I’d just driven through, I remembered how I’d cursed it, resented it, feared it, and I realized I’d been so focused on where I was trying to go that I’d missed the magic of the moment I was in—the red-orange glow of head and tail lights; the misty, ethereal quality of the road I was on; the fact that for ten precarious minutes, I was leading the way, helping someone else to see; fellow travelers out in front of me—strangers who led me through the scariest part, then sent me on; appreciation for the fact that all of us together were more valiant than any of us alone; gratitude for the mystery driver who led the way as though he knew the route well enough to navigate it with his eyes closed.

The sun burst above the horizon in an explosion of color and light. A new day dawned. It felt like Christmas.

Happy New Year!

Karla Yaconelli

To be sent back into the world is one of the critical realizations a true Christian must experience.

Lately I have been using Robert McAnally Adams’ Christian Quotation of the Day for my morning devotional guide. Today’s from H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture ends “for they are forever being challenged to abandon all things for the sake of God; and forever being sent back into the world to teach and practice all the things that have been commanded them.”

First, do human beings respond as God calls them to Him? If so, do they then go as commanded into the world?

But then, where? and what exactly are we to do? These are the questions of centuries of church distinctions and theological search.

To be sent back into the world is at least as challenging now as ever. There hardly exist any places today that allow us to use a one-size-fits-all approach to mission. All the cities of the world fill with diverse cultures. Increasingly, the old monocultural approaches to mission carry at least a whiff of exclusivism, and more often reek of bigotry.

People and their cultures hardly stay where we expect them to be. We turn around and there they are. Surprise! showing up in places they’re not supposed to be.

So, the call to be sent back into the world “to teach and practice” is challenging. Languages, foods, social conventions, histories, and all else used to be the specialized training of missionaries which the church then sent off. Now, urban Christians live next door to those once living far off. The battery of tests once administered to determine if a person qualified for mission experience don’t seem to mean much. Whether or not we qualify, the mission field now opens to us all on our block.

This changes the church’s curriculum. How should it look? Cultural competency, recasting again our understanding of Christ’s command to love, and a new commitment to mission that chooses to serve others as it continually rejects self-serving absorption.

“As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” Jesus prays to his Father (John 17:18). Jesus calls us to him. And then, beckons us, with a gesture of the hand and a smile, to follow him: the man for others.

Last month I was able to be in New Orleans for the Christian Community Development Association National Conference.  Gail and a few other Salvation Army people from our St Louis area enjoyed visiting the Big Easy.  Eating po-boys, luxuriating in the Big Easy’s languid warmth.

Captain Ronnie musing and Lieutenant AJ scrutinizes as Lieutenant Bryan makes a point.

Captain Ronnie muses and Lieutenant AJ scrutinizes as Lieutenant Bryan makes a point.

Most of all we were challenged by what we heard and learned.  About the way God’s people from a wide range of persuasions (Jesuit priest and Southern Baptist) are being used to bring about wholeness in some of the most challenging urban places in America.

I am of a theological bent.  So one of my personal highlights was the conference opening night address from Noel Castellanos, CEO of CCDA.  Noel got theological.  His recent blog post ‘Cultivating Unlikely Leaders’ incorporates some of the theological observations from that address.

Noel refers to ‘a new reality’.  It is a reality of merging the margins and mainstream of society.  That the most unlikely of people would come together in healing and helping ways.  Led by women and men from the most unlikely of places, working together in the most unlikely configurations.

Unlikely.  I like that.

Those of us from Salvation Army have our roots in the unlikely.  19th century Britain did not expect people of its urban slums to become agents of the gospel in their communities, and eventually around the world.  But that’s what happened.

... closer and closer

the most unlikely of places and people

Question:  is it still happening?

Yes.  In all our Army places?  no.

We confess that often we are tempted to be too much so mainstream.  Dallas Cowboys and much of corporate America love us.  Our temptation is to love the ways and means of our land, to adopt an American overlay of consumerism (what exactly do we accomplish at Christmas?), to allow a respectable religion to direct our paths.

Forgive us our trepasses.  Lead us not into temptation.

At our very best, Salvation Army merges margin and mainstream.  In the morning we are in the Governor’s office.  Later that same day we are praying with a family in the projects.  We are this way to bring people closer and closer together, to God.  The big theological idea is reconciliation, of all things.  That was a key theological claim made by George Scott Railton in 1878, the year we became The Salvation Army.

to be seen in all the most unlikely places

to be seen in all the most unlikely places

May God lead us into the most unlikely places to surprise this world that He so loves.  Amen.

For several years I’ve been using Clairefontaine for my journals.  ClairefontaineThis one is ready to stow in my box, joining its comrades.

I browsed.  The beginning of the year 2012.

Eberhard Bethge describes Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s use of metanoia, repentance.  Any real encounter with Christ is one in which Christ takes us by the shoulder and turns us around.  To face our fellow human beings and the world.  metanoia wards us away from religion’s dangers of inwardness, privilege.

There is a poem by George MacDonald about the reluctant urban missioner called by Jesus to a noxious city.  Reluctant, yet repentant.

Do you suppose there was any reluctance on the part of NYC firemen, paramedics, policemen entering the WTC on the morning of September 11?  Was there a moment when a veteran placed a hand on the shoulder of a rookie, to guide up the stairs?fireman in stairway 2

Bethge writes of Bonhoeffer, refusing invitations to remain safe in America, in England, to escape from prison.

The missio Dei, God’s mission, shared by God’s people, is aptly described in the Gospel of John.  God gives his Son.  God sends his Son.  And the reluctant Son turns to the world, travels on the road, to the cross.

Mission to the people of this world so-loved of God calls reluctant missioners to repent.  To heed the unseen, unfelt hand of Christ taking us by the shoulder and turning us around and into noxious places, up many flights of stairs.  Into George MacDonald’s city.  Into disturbing urban scenarios.

We may not bring much along with us.  But, there we are.  Isn’t that the point?

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