Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear - Chapter 9

Buy From AmazonThis chapter in Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear may be the most politically charged as Scott Bader-Saye tackles The Risk of Peacemaking. I should start out by saying that by peacemaking he is not saying that every Christian must be a pacifist, but simply that the call of peacemaking severely limits the ways in which we can justify violence. Fear and its attendant virtue of preemption pushes us to view the world suspiciously and often respond by force in order to ensure our security. Here he asks the question: is there a better, more Christ-like way to respond when we feel threatened?

Returning again to providence, he declares that while trusting providence is the key to peace, it is also fairly readily turned on its head by those in power in such a way that it actually threatens peace. We see this all through history - when providence is used to justify violence and domination. After all, if whatever happens is God's will, then the victor must be God's winner. And, he notes, the victor not only writes the history, but also writes the theology. Thus we find scripture being used to support the rich, the powerful and the oppressors, contrary to the life of Christ as witnessed to in the gospels, which shows compassion and love towards the meek, the poor, and the oppressed.

In order to respond appropriately to threat, we must cultivate the virtue of patience. "One of the gifts of courage is the ability to be patient because we refuse to let fear push us to act before we are ready, that is, before we have taken time to gather the wisdom necessary to judge a situation with prudence. Because Christians trust in Gods' providence, we believe that time is on our side, that history unfailingly moves toward that fifth act in which God will gather up all things in Christ. Patience, then, as an outworking of our trust in providence, becomes a partner of peace." (129)

This patience, however, must not be creatively cloaked apathy. All peacemaking efforts ought to involve actively living the way of God. So, for example, during the civil rights movement it wasn't Godly patience that urged the black leaders to just wait. "Their kind of patience was not a freely chosen witness to God's providence, but a weapon wielded by the powerful to shut down social change." (130)

To be perfectly honest, I find the risk of peacemaking to be quite difficult. Not only to do, but to figure out what doing it even means. The idealist in me is drawn to pacifism, but the reality of non-response in the face of terrible, violent injustice chastens me. But can a nation wage a war 'justly'? I don't know. What are 'sufficient' reasons to respond in violence? It's all so hard to discern!

And even on a personal level, it is so tricky, especially given our astounding capacity for self-deception, to figure out when we are being patient and when we are being apathetic. It's far too easy to brush things off with an "all in God's time," but perhaps easier still to act rashly in the interests of 'urgent' tasks and problems.

Anyone have thoughts on this? I'm curious to hear what y'all think about pacifism, just war, criteria for helping to discern when to act, etc.

Next week, the final chapter: The Risk of Generosity


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear - Chapter 8

In this chapter Scott Bader-Saye kicks off the final stretch in which he talks about hospitality, generosity and peacemaking as ways to combat fear in his book Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear.

He begins with The Risk of Hospitality, calling us back to the discussion in chapter 2 about how a culture of fear can lead to an ethic of security, with 'virtues' like suspicion, accumulation and preemption. These 'virtues', however, easily lead to a decline in hospitality - if we view the stranger with suspicion and see him as a threat, we are unlikely to risk opening our homes or lives to him. In a post 9/11 America, it is quite easy to see how individually and corporately we have adopted this attitude. But this mentality threatens our commitment to the Christian ethic of love for God and love for our neighbor.

Next he identifies a less obvious threat to hospitality: community. We've all probably experienced to some degree how easy it is to start to tribalize within our communities, with sharp boundaries defining who is in and who is out. When we are driven by fear, it becomes increasingly important to surround ourselves by people like 'us', disavowing all that may be 'strange' in a stranger in order to feel secure. It goes against most of our natural impulses to trust in God (see the previous discussions on providence) rather than our own ability to protect ourselves, especially knowing that "following... God will lead us into the unknown where safety is simply not the point." (102)

However, community can also serve as the context for hospitality. If we allow the boundaries to remain porous, shifting our communities from being 'bounded sets' to 'centered sets' as suggested by Brian McLaren, we become defined by where we are in relation to the center (Christ) rather than if we fit into the boundaries established by the group. This is immediately uncomfortable, as it adds a certain fuzziness to our identity. Christine Pohl (whose book on hospitality, Making Room, is excellent by the way) says this:

Part of the difficulty in recovering hospitality is connected with our uncertainty about community and particular identity. Hosts value their 'place' and are willing to share it; strangers desire welcome into places that contain a rich life of meaning and relationships. By welcoming strangers, however, the community's identity is always being challenged and revised, if only slightly. While this is often enriching, it can occasionally stretch a place beyond recognition. (108)

We can look to the early church in Acts to see some of the ways in which welcoming the stranger forced the Jewish core to reshape their notions of identity as they invited gentiles into their communion. Serious centuries-old boundary breaking took place that required much more of a total paradigm shift than most of us will have to undergo. We need to embrace the body of Christ metaphor given by Paul and start celebrating diversity in our communities, risking the 'death to self' that takes place when we start to actually welcome difference, letting go of our pride and holding our identity loosely enough to allow it to be refined.

Next week: The Risk of Peacemaking


Thursday, July 24, 2008

And I'm Back

Thus ending the long string of lasts, and beginning a new series of firsts. Right now? First time back on the internet. It's still strange to me that I can get online in Bellevue but not at my parents house.

Other great firsts in my new life back in Texas include margaritas, mushroom fajitas, firecracker sushi, walking with Dad and the dog at the crack of dawn, working out with mom and realizing she can lift more than I can, lunch with grandma, and a trip to Target. Good stuff. It's amazing how much you can pack into a day when you get started at around 3:30 in the morning. Jetlag, gotta love it.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear - Chapter 7

Continuing the discussion of providence as it relates to fear, in this chapter of Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear, Scott Bader-Saye takes a look at Security and Vulnerability.

He begins by reiterating the point that the drama we are participating in is ultimately comic, not tragic. Not funny comic, but comic in the sense that because of God's providence, we can trust that it will end well in Act 5, to continue using Sam Wells' metaphor from last week.

But as we live in Act 4, with its attendant suffering and brokenness, we need to dig a bit more deeply into providence not as an insurance policy against harm, but as a promise of provision and redemption. This flies in the face of the 'health and wealth' gospel that draws heavily on the verses which seem to promise blessing and protection. What do we do with these verses? Well, it seems that we ought to treat them in the same manner as we treat other parts of scripture: Read them in their context. The larger narrative paints a picture that includes not only these verses, but the story of Job.

So given the reality of the world, and our deep instinct to seek security in fearful surroundings, where do we go looking for it? Well, it seems clear that wealth, power and domination aren't the answer if we look even only superficially at scripture.There we find a "paradoxical reversal of strength and weakness" (93) that manifests itself most clearly in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But to place our security in a God whose power is vulnerable love? Seems sort of risky. It seems counter-intuitive almost to trust a God who seems silent in the face of evil. But as you can probably guess, Bader-Saye again has something to say about interpreting events that helps give voice to the silence.

He draws again on Sam Wells and his metaphor based on theatrical improvisation, which I really love. "In the lingo of improvisation, an actor can respond to an 'offer' (an action, speech or gesture) from another actor by 'accepting', 'blocking', or 'overaccepting'." (94) Accepting the offer is to play out the scene on the terms as given. To block is is to refuse the offer and "disrupt the scene in such a dramatic way that what follows has no coherence with what preceded." (94) To overaccept is to receive the offer, even an evil offer, but in a way that refuses take it on its own destructive terms.

The Genesis flood could be taken as an example of an act of blocking on the part of God, after which he promised to not 'block' humanity in such a way again. Joseph serves as an image of overacceptance by both he and God, taking the 'offer' of his brothers selling him into slavery and, rather than responding in violence, transforming the evil into a good in the larger narrative. Obviously, Christ again also presents to us the pinnacle of overacceptance, turning the evil of the cross into victory. In all of these stories, we see God refusing to 'block' the sin of humanity, but instead working through it to produce good. He redeems the situations and provides for the people within their own experience, even if not in the direct way they (and we) might initially choose.

So when faced with fear producing realities like, say, cancer, while we are powerless to fully 'block' the offer, we can choose to re-narrate and transform the event (and ourselves) by responding in trust to God. If we seek first the kingdom of God, making Him rather than security our primary goal, we can better meet life with courage in the face of fear.

Again I find these chapters on providence difficult to condense, so I hope that this makes some sort of sense. From here Bader-Saye moves to combating fear by risking hospitality, generosity and peacemaking.

Next week: The Risk of Hospitality


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Going, Going, Gone

Well, I've been up since about 3 this morning doing a final pack, and Kay and I will be catching the 6 o'clock bus to begin our long haul over the ocean. It's all too crazy.

See y'all stateside soon!


Saturday, July 19, 2008

More Lasts

Another day of lasts... my last formal meal, my last Bellevue dinner crew. Tomorrow is my last final high tea. It's all very.... just, very.

Also, the last installment of Dr. Horrible. If you haven't watched, do it, you'll love it.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear - Chapter 6

This week we'll be diving into Narrative and Providence in Scott Bader-Saye's Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear.

Now you may be wondering what in the world providence has to do with the topic of fear. Well, a lot actually. You see, he identifies a common yet subtle fear that afflicts most of us at some time or another: purposelessness. It's easy to worry that our lives are simply a series of meaningless actions, but he argues that the Christian story provides the larger context that gives us meaning. Not to mention hope.

One of the important skills we must learn is to read our own stories, the story of history, the story of culture, etc. figuratively with the story of scripture. An example of this can be found in Elie Wiesel's book Night, written about his experience in the Auschwitz concentration camp. In it, some of his fellow inmates struggle to interpret the horror in terms of the biblical pattern of exile, while others drew on apocalyptic imagery. Wiesel himself attempted to interpret the experience through the lens of Job. In each case, they placed themselves within the biblical narrative to interpret the events. Again, not to explain causation, but to interpret them in a meaningful way. This type of figurative reading is poetry, not science, and is flexible enough to allow multiple readings at once as well as for the interpretations to change as times and events change.

In addition to learning to read figuratively, we can read our lives within the larger narrative of God's redemptive plan. Sam Wells' uses the analogy of a 5 act play (86):
   *   Act 1: Creation
   *   Act 2: God's calling of Israel
   *   Act 3: God's incarnation in Jesus Christ
   *   Act 4: God's calling and sending of the church
   *   Act 5: The culmination of the story in the reign of God

As we walk through scripture and become acquainted with the overarching themes and the narrative that enfolds us from beginning to end, we are able to place ourselves in act 4, part of the continuing story. This placement gives meaning to our lives, reconnects us when we are feeling disconnected, and frees us of the burden and pressure of creating a new story by allowing us to participate fully in a story that is already being told. And we know the ending: the kingdom of God. So while we strive and try and persevere, we can also rest in the true hope of God's redemption, knowing that whatever surprises life throws at us, as the author of the story God can and will write a good ending. Or has written it: in Christ act 5 has already definitively been decided.

Well, to be honest, this was a chapter packed full of important theological nuances and helpful anecdotes, and I feel certain that in condensing it for blogging purposes it has lost much of its punch. Please comment if I've left out the bit that makes it all make sense, and I'll try to clarify it there.

Next week: Security and Vulnerability



Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Status? Is Not Quo.

Act 1 of Dr. Horrible is up, and it is fan-freaking-tastic. Check it out ASAP!


Monday, July 14, 2008

Little Surprises

Still packing, still going through drawers, still feeling sad, and I found this:


given to me by Anna ages ago. Made my day a little sweeter.


Ugh. Packing.

White Out This is the week that it all has to come together. After my last worker meeting this morning (yet another last) I pulled out the suitcases and began the somewhat traumatic process of going through desks and closets and drawers and trying to figure out what should stay and what should go. The weather matches my mood - it's a virtual white-out, and we can scarcely see the mountains through the fog. It's an apt metaphor, really.

But the good news is that Thomas, upon witnessing my plight, made me a delicious chocolate pie to give me comfort. Seriously, what else could a girl want? Such a thoughtful guy! (Ladies - he's available!)

Pie for Packing!


Saturday, July 12, 2008

Medical Missionaries in Need of Support

Susan, a woman on ravelry, is doing a raffle on her blog to help support her aunt and uncle, who are medical missionaries. Her uncle, Jan, fell out of a tree and broke his neck and spine and is now partially paralyzed. She's trying to raise enough to get them the wheelchair they'll be needing.

Read more about these folks here. Tickets for the raffle are only $10, and even if you don't want the stash she's raffling off, it's a great way to support them if you'd like to do a good deed today.