Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Monday, July 09, 2007

Hard Days for God?

I'm in Canada teaching this week, and the theme in both my studies (the book of Nehemiah, from which I'm teaching), conversations, and general reading, is of one cloth: God's reputation is being dragged through the mud these days. A CBC piece addresses it. Richard Dawkin's new book addresses it. The book of Nehemiah uses the word 'reproach' to speak of God's people... and Sam Harris charges that Christians are not only delusional, but dangerous.

What's going on here, and what should be done about it? Since I've asked two questions, I'll propose two answers:

1. What's Going on Here? -- The short answer is that we Christians are making a pretty fine mess of God's reputation. Just look at us: We can't decide whether to bomb our enemies or love them. We can't decide whether to care for the poor, or let them fight it out in a Darwinian economic system, whereby the 'losers' are judged as lazy and deemed unworthy of our help because we say the Bible forbids it. We can't decide whether this world is going to burn up, therefore inviting mindless consumption since the 'end is near', or whether it's going to be around for a while and so perhaps God wants us to continue the job of stewarding and caring for it. We claim to believe in miracles like the resurrection from the dead, but live often prayerless lives, so terrified are we of having our faith shaken by unanswered prayers. We sometimes vilify people who are different than us, and turn a blind eye to the very sins Jesus speaks of as most important (such as disregard for the poor, or divorce).

Mind you, none of this is God's fault. But since so many of us who are wearing his tee-shirts and bumper stickers are doing so much that is hurtful, contradictory, destructive, or divisive in His name, I'm not surprised to see that these authors are gaining a mighty falling. People are beginning to doubt the reality of God because God's followers seem unable to get it together.

From the bits I've read and listened to, each of these author's positions are shabby. For example, none mention that Stalin, Lenin, Mao, Pol Pot, and countless others through the ages specialized in genocide, torture, and oppression, AND were themselves atheists. The notion that removing God from the picture will create a utopia is absurd. That the masses are swallowing it is frightening.

Further, it must be stated that real, vibrant, joy-filled, generous, whole and holy lives are not the object of these author's scorn, nor the straw man they erect to knock down (at least, according the limited reading I've done). So, not only is this not God's fault, but it's also true that the glimpses of grace and glory are not hard to find, unless someone chooses to be blind. And again, the overwhelming response to these author's is indicative of a powerful blindness - which is ironic since their uniform cry is a 'return to reason'!

But people are weary of the confusing and contradictory messages peddled in Jesus' name, and this is, indeed, harming the cause of Christ, and His name.

What can be Done About It?

For starters, it seems vital that we begin from a position of solidarity, recognizing that all of us who carry the name of Jesus are collectively responsible for our representation of His life. It's frighteningly easy to throw up my arms in disgust and distance myself from those who 'don't get it'. I know of one pastor/author who, by the end of his life, had so distanced himself from the failings of the church that he was only taking communion with himself!

Having recognized my solidarity with the family of faith, the next important piece seems to be finding that passion that is boiling deep within me that will result in calling, in using my gifts and finding my voice.

Finally... I need to jump in and make my contribution. What is it? Hosting neighbors? Medical volunteering? Creating art? Justice? Environment? Bible Teaching? Writing? Hospitality? Mico-financing? How am I contributing to making the life of Christ visible? What's asked of me? What's my unique contribution? It's here, at the point of service, that the invisible God, or the caricatured God, is able to be seen more clearly. It's not too late... but the sun is setting!


At 10/7/07 00:12, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"We can't decide whether to care for the poor, or let them fight it out in a Darwinian economic system, whereby the 'losers' are judged as lazy and deemed unworthy of our help because we say the Bible forbids it."

I'm curious what other system you think would be more helpful in elevating more people out of poverty and creating more value? How do you explain the revealed preferences of most of the world's current poor for some form capitalism?

Where would the resources for many of the praiseworthy microcredit and other philanthropic enterprises come from outside of productivity and creation of value emphasized by the economic system we have?

I'm also not sure that it is fair to explain character judgments about laziness and worthiness in terms of our capitalist practices.

Another thought about Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, Onfray, et. al. After reading some of their work, I don't get the impression that a single one of them is familiar enough with any basic Christian teachings or practices to motivated by anything quite as sincere as disenchant with Christian hypocrisy. While this is certainly true for many people, we ought also to accept that some people will always hate God and Christians, because they simply don't want to world to be the way the Gospel says it is.

Blessings and thanks for the thought provoking comments, its always an interesting read.

At 10/7/07 06:17, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

Great questions... I'd commend a read of "Deep Economy" as one good source suggesting some of the limits of operating purely from the ideologies of Adam Smith to some self imposed limits to growth. The author does a good job of casting this alternative vision, suggesting that such limitations might lead to better wealth distribution.

And of course, the 'lazy' comment hearkens back to Paul's admonition: "if a man doesn't work... don't let him eat", words which have been used at various times throughout history to justify pre-emptive disregard for the poor.

At 10/7/07 14:08, Anonymous Lisa said...

Clearly our system which emphasizes value and productivity is not working out very well for the no less than 12.9 million children that live below the poverty line in the US.

I doubt anyone here is calling for the complete elimination of capitalism. Rather some of us are seeking to find a more equitable way of conducting business, which, on such a grand scale as the US economy, must come in the form of regulation. One would like to believe that a free enterprise system of competition creates greater equality but what we see when we look around at real world experience is typically a race to the bottom not the top.

But this is just the specifics of the situation. When you scratch the surface of the economics issue it's not really about systems, CEO compensation, or regulation, it's about what motivates us. Does generosity, health, freedom, and peace motivate us, or does greed, consumerism, fear, and security determine our path? Which model brings us closer to the radical vision of life laid out by Christ?

At 17/7/07 12:01, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's a look at some stuff that's been going on in Seattle - it's really opened my eyes up to what non-believers think of Christians:


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